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Carmel

This UK act was formed in Manchester in 1981 by Carmel McCourt (b. 24 November 1958, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England; vocals) and former members of Bee Vamp, Jim Parris (b. 13 January 1957, Finchley, London, England; double bass) and Gerry Darby (b. 13 October 1959, Finchley, London, England; drums, percussion). On the release of the single ‘Storm’ and a mini-album in 1982 on the independent Red Flame label, Carmel drew praise for the fiery passion of all three members. Parris and Darby remarkably conjured the effect of a full ensemble backing to McCourt’s powerful vocals, and were able to alternate between soulful ballads, gospel, blues and stomping jazz. The stand-out ‘Tracks Of My Tears’ was performed with confidence, as though the song had been a group original rather than a new arrangement of the Smokey Robinson classic. An appearance at the 1983 ICA Rock Week led to Carmel signing to London Records, while a sell-out performance at the prestigious Ronnie Scott’s jazz club confirmed their status within the British ‘new jazz/pop’ scene. In accentuating the ‘jazz’ motif, the music and ‘style’ press unfortunately saddled the singer with an unwanted Billie Holiday image, which was eventually passed on to future ‘rival’, Sade. Carmel tasted success for the first time that August when the glorious, gospel-tinged ‘Bad Day’, featuring the Attractions’ Steve Nieve and the swooping backing vocals of Helen Watson and Rush Winters, reached number 15 in the UK singles chart. Carmel’s ‘50s jazz club’ image was evocatively captured on the single’s cover by Serge Clerc, who supplied the artwork to the subsequent ‘Willow Weep For Me’, February 1984’s number 23 hit ‘More, More, More’, and the album, The Drum Is Everything. Despite reaching number 19 in the charts, the album failed to capture the vitality of the singles or of the earlier Red Flame issues. While the jazz fashion faded in the UK, Carmel found a much more attentive and appreciative audience in Europe, particularly France. A more satisfying release, The Falling, found the trio achieving their most successful studio performance up to that time, aided by several producers including Brian Eno and Hugh Johns. Subsequent albums displayed an increasing maturity that manifested itself in original compositions such as ‘Easy For You’, ‘Nothing Good’, ‘Napoli’ and ‘I’m Over You’. Their earlier talent for producing imaginative cover versions was evidenced in them tackling Randy Newman’s ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come’, Charles Dawes and Carl Sigman’s hit for Tommy Edwards, ‘It’s All In The Game’, and Duke Ellington’s ‘Azure’. Despite the disappointing lack of mass appeal in the home market, Carmel continue to command respect from critics and fans alike and are able to work equally well within the confines of an intimate jazz club or in the larger auditoriums. After a long association with London Records, Carmel left the label in 1991, signing with EastWest in 1992. The trio recorded two indifferent major label releases in the mid-90s, but they remain a compelling live attraction as documented on the live sets for Musidisc and Indigo.
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