... your heart out
This is dedicated to all those who take the time and trouble to share their enthusiasms and obsessions, for whatever reason, for little return, yet in so doing enlighten and illuminate, making the world a better place, leading us to sounds and people we never dared dream exist.
“Unseen ripples from a pebble become a tidal wave ...”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org www.myspace.com/yrheartout
I found an uncorrected proof of Shena Mackay’s The Atmospheric Railway in a local charity shop. It must have been put there for me to find. New Shena Mackay stories. As great as ever. And selected stories from the archives. Ones that had lit up my life. For a long time. But for others. Well, they will be discovering them for the first time ...
That same charity shop. A very Shena Mackay sort of place. Funnily enough it also recently had a copy of Ellen Allien’s Fabric mix CD. A real find. Dancefloor oriented. But a welcome reminder of how wonderful her own, more recent, Sool set was. Electronica of the deep listening variety as good as it’s ever been. As good as your Speedy Js and Seefeels. The best thing, of this sort, I’ve heard in eons. Better even than Olga Kouklaki. Or the triumphant return of Leila. For today. Good timing, as my interest in electronica has been revivified and renewed. Interestingly this was as a direct consequence of discovering a record that had been around a few years. Kate Wax and her Reflection of the Dark Heat. I’d missed that totally, but not to worry. I liked finding it when I did. Just as I hope people will love finding those old Shena Mackay short stories in this new volume. What does it matter when you first come across something? I’m sure I’m not alone in missing out on this brilliant Kate Wax set. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that this set of songs, well, sort of strikes me in the
same way as the possibly vaguely related Chicks On Speed or Monika Enterprises stables, where at any moment the records could break out into Rihanna/Girls Aloud universal whistle-along-ability or be as awkward and abstract as hell. Rather like say Wire would have a pop moment with Outdoor Miner then an abstruse art meander for the Peel show. So one moment Kate’s whispering sinisterly and seductively over a Suicide throb then she ups the ante and gets out the sledgehammer beats and driller bass. That cove Weatherall did that trick really well in his Sabres/Two Lone Swordsman days. It’s a good trick if you can do it. I note Kate Wax is based in Geneva. Ah well. That sort of explains it. My track record with Swiss electronica is not great. It took me the best part of 25 years to catch up with Grauzone. Worth the wait for that too. That whole area of synth/minimalism or electro or cold wave emanating from mainland Europe just after the punk explosion has been particularly well served by the salvage merchants on the web. Hark! The sweet sound of shattered preconceptions!
I like to think that if you chanced upon this Alaide Costa record you’d realise that you needed to hear it. The great thing is that this 1965-ish
does sound as good as it looks. There’s
record that I adore.
Moderna. From a few years earlier.
At the peak of the
bossa revolution. But back to this record ... One of the songs Alaide gets to sing so beautifully is Noite So. A song written by Tuca. One of several songs written by Tuca that other Brazilian singers performed around that time. Tuca. The chances are that if you know the name from anywhere it will be from La Question. The Francoise Hardy record. Unquestionably the greatest of many great Francoise Hardy records. I’ve been a devotee of Françoise ever since I saw her name dropped by my idol Vic Godard in an early Dave McCullough interview in Sounds. If my memory serves me well Vic also talked of the Javells. As in Nosmo King’s Pye Disco Demand. Then there was the photo of Françoise with Bob Dylan, where she may have brought him an LP. Anyway, every time I stumbled across a Françoise record I had to have it. The Golden Hour Of, and so on. It would be some years before I heard La Question, but it was worth the wait. Despite the deliberately ugly cover photo. I’ve always wanted to know more about Tuca’s involvement in the making of that great record. She is listed as being responsible for artistic direction,
arrangements, and the writing of most of the songs. In other words she masterminded the recording. A great record. Naturally the bossa style suited the French singers. The fragility, the vulnerability, the understatedness. The links go back to Pierre Barouh, the soundtrack to A Man and A Woman, the Saravah label. A number of French singers made great bossa records. Claire Chevalier, Christiane Legrand, for example. And bossa seemed to suit Françoise. Except that La Question seems to have a bit of a bite, and something dark in its arrangements and songs. The Tuca influence. The other record that Tuca was heavily involved with, around the same time, in the same place, was Nara Leao’s Dez Anos Depois. Tuca is credited for her special participation. Again, this is the best work that Nara was ever involved in, which is saying something. The remit for this record was simple. Keep it simple. Stark, minimal arrangements. Low key performances of what were already bossa standards. Ten or so years on. Mostly Jobim compositions.
Nara’s old tropicalia compadre Rogerio Duprat was also involved with the arrangements. Probably not that long after the Brazilian Suite record he made as part of KPM’s legendary library series. Now there’s a record that is amazing, and oh I wish I had something other than a virtual copy. Hey ho. Anyway, Nara’s Dez Anos Depois. The best record the muse of bossa nova made. Nara at her most intimate and introspective, bringing out the inherent sadness and darkness. The Tuca touch. So, just in case we’re not all grasping the significance of this. There’s Tuca. Out there in Paris. Involved with and perhaps responsible for the best records that two of the greats, Françoise Hardy and Nara Leao, get to make. It starts to add up. It makes perfect sense though if you chance upon the few records that Tuca made under her own name. This is perhaps easier said than done, but if you do your Sherlock Holmes trick and hunt around, you will be rewarded. It is quite hard to put the pieces together. But facts are facts, and the record Tuca made in 1975, towards the end of her exile in Paris, is extraordinary. Called Dracula, I Love You, it is one of the best records ever. It is certainly an intense listening experience.
Dracula, I Love You is a strange mix of driving soulful grooves, samba flourishes, electronic touches, bossa balladry, and ornate arrangements. I think it’s fantastic, and am struggling to understand why it’s not been reissued. Maybe there are contractual complications, but you would have thought that the good people places like él and Dusty Groove would be able to get round things. I have no real concept of how Tuca is regarded back home in Brazil. I do know that a couple of years after recording this LP and returning home she tragically died. Tuca’s two earlier LPs, which have come to light, are equally as wonderful, though perhaps more straight forward bossa related recordings. There is also a single from 1966 which has been posted on the ever exceptional Loronix site, and which needs to be heard. I really would love to know more about those years in the early ‘70s which Tuca spent in exile in Paris, like so many spiritual souls before. Did she hang out with Pierre Barouh, Brigitte Fontaine & Areski? Did she meet any of the free jazzers? Did she work with anyone else? Who introduced her to Françoise? There must be some stories to tell, a book to write...
I’m funny when it comes to books about music. Tend to hate them. But can’t resist them. The bitten tongue effect. When it hurts like hell. Yet you keep coming back to it. Rubbing it against the roughest part of your teeth . There are exceptions . One book that is the exception. One book that is exceptional is Deep Down With Dennis Brown. A book lovingly put together by the great Penny Reel. It’s billed as a short story. Its subtitle is Cool Runnings and the Crown Prince of Reggae. It is one of the best books about music ever. I’m not exaggerating. The short story is roughly a hundred pages long. About half of those hundred pages are photos or collages. So, say, fifty thousand words. Works for me that. What doesn’t work for me is the fact that this book seems to have been published in 2000, shortly after Dennis’ death, and it’s taken this long for me to find it. And I would for one not have found it had it not been for the determination of Jon Eden of Woofah/Uncarved activism, who has been championing the book left, right and centre. Penny Reel. He’s a writer who I’m sure unwittingly was responsible for shaping me. It was that piece he wrote back in early 1979 on the Young Mod’s Forgotten Story for the New Musical Express. It changed my life. Even now I feel its pull.
I saw a copy of Jimmy Witherspoon’s Blue Spoon. I’d like to say I needed the recording because it is a very lovely set of songs. Nope. It’s more that this particular recording was from the era referred by Monsignor Reel in the opening paragraph of this piece, where one of the three real mods, flecking Lea Davis’ brother, has the best collection of Jimmy Witherspoon records in London. Ah well. The tone of that article was very Colin MacInnes-ish or Alexander Baron-esque, but I’d not read either at the time. Anyway, one of the Monsignor’s day jobs at the time was writing on reggae for the New Musical Express in those supposedly enlightened post-punk times. He’d write about the records I’d see in the shop window when I’d go to visit my nan. His prose was very readable, even if there was no way I could afford those disco 12”s. Occasionally there would be a reggae crossover hit. This might provide an opportunity for the Monsignor to expand and expound in more detail. One such occasion was the success of Dennis Brown’s Money In My Pocket in early 1979 (again), when he became front page news.
It is the front page feature on Dennis Brown which Penny Reel wrote that forms the bedrock for the short story. Quite deliberately the Monsignor sketches the story of the Crown Prince up to and including this point. The story is one of how the boy wonder at Studio 1 goes on to reach a point where Lightning Records in London is able once again to bring the subversive sounds of reggae into our kitchens and living rooms. The amount of detail in this short story is striking. It is of the sort that only an obsessive who has been in the right places at the right times, and has kept the right records, can provide. Myself, I find the jumble of memorabilia and whatnot as fascinating as the words. Flyers and photos tell their own stories. If there is a subtext to the story it is that of how reggae music had an impact on the UK. I am wary of seeming flippant, but there is a lovely story of how airplay for Prince Buster was generated indirectly by the Chelsea football team’s holiday in Jamaica in the 1966 close season and its return with a copy of the Prince’s Sammy Dead which they proceed to play at each home game in the coming season before Al Capone becomes a hit. I mention that because I was wondering earlier about The Liquidator being played at so many grounds now, and indeed Pigbag’s big hit being played at games so often. Hmmm. Incidentally there is this lingering perception of skinheads in the late ‘60s moonstomping away to their early reggae sounds, laughing at the progressive rock fans. Some have tried to carry that image forward by portraying mods in 1979 running away from progressives like PiL or Cabaret Voltaire. The thing that’s wrong there is the bit about the prog rockers missing out on the life affirming power of ska and rocksteady. Oh well. The great thing about this book is that it makes you want to go and listen to the music of Dennis Brown. I used to joke
about a group called the Go-Betweens and how in the 1980s the stuff written about them might well have put even the group itself off. The funny thing is that reading this book made me realise I really am not an expert on the work of DEB. Oh I had the Promised Land compilation on Blood And Fire, Visions Of, and a Niney years set. A dub set too. But the danger is when a name is that big it can seem too obvious, and the more arcane seems more appealing. But I’ve had fun catching up. A lot of the references in the short story are to the publication Black Echoes. My own perspective on what was happening at the time reggae wise was from the punk perspective. What I heard on Peel. Or the specialist shows on Capital and Radio London. What I read in the New Musical Express or Sounds. Or in Zigzag. Zigzag was a music monthly. Independent. But pretty widely available. In the punk era it was edited by Kris Needs. And maybe in terms of layout and journalism it wasn’t The Face, but it certainly had a huge impact on me. And Kris was a real evangelist for reggae, in between his stuff on The Clash, PiL and the Banshees. There was a big piece on Dennis Brown, for example, in 1978 where the reggae star talks up the importance of punk. Oh yes I liked Zigzag a lot. I’ve got a couple of editions from 1980 here. One has Kris on Grace Jones, (Clash acolyte) Robin Banks on Vic Godard, and Jane Garcia (Suck?) on Lydia Lunch. The other has Kris on Cristina, Robin reviewing Vic’s What’s The Matter Boy? and Snatch’s Shopping For Clothes. Tell me that’s not cool. Things changed after 1980 though. Not sure what happened. I’m not sure what became of Penny Reel. I know Kris is still writing. Needs must, I suppose. I’d forgive him anything though. He is after all the man behind Secret Knowledge’s Sugar Daddy. Quite possibly the greatest single ever.
That Mick Jones eh?
You might just about remember my best selling compendium of London songs, and the special chapter dedicated to the varied works of one Mick Jones and the numerous London references in his canon of songs. One regret that I do have now is that perhaps, or more than perhaps, I concentrated a little too much on the works of The Clash, glossing over the various incarnations of Big Audio Dynamite. A mistake, I acknowledge. I really rate B.A.D. now. And if I had my time over again I would certainly focus on Mick’s post-Clash activities. In particular I would give pride of place to a passage pertaining to Mick’s song about the Harrow Road. You may know the one. It starts with the lines about seeing Elvis washing clothes in the launderette down by the Grove. From the Higher Power set. By the Big Audio incarnation. When Mick’s old comrades were long gone. Pretty late in the day BAD-wise I assume. I’m no expert. But then I’m ahem B.A.D.wiser than I once was.
I rate Higher Power pretty highly. It’s got some real gems on. Over The Rise. Lucan. And so on. I like the idea too that Mick maybe sat down, with a bit of a blueprint in his head. Listen guys, he might have said, imagine Ultra Naté meets Ewan MacColl at the grass roots of hip hop. That should get the party rocking and the revolution started, or the other way round, he might have added. Works for me, anyway. I love Higher Power most of all because it contains a song called Light Up My Life which some days depending on how I’m feeling I reckon to be just about the best thing ever. It has a gorgeously infectious chorus that makes me grin and go all gooey. Mick goes on about how he loves the way she giggles when she talks, and loves the way she wiggles when she walks. It’s so simple, it’s pure genius. Like Kevin Rowland’s Because Of You. Like Mick’s own Train In Vain. I’d love to hear Light Up My Life on the radio now and then. Early in the morning, to get you dancing round the kitchen, waving your toast and peanut butter around. Ah well.
Ah that Mick Jones. I seem to recall reading somewhere that he’d been playing again with old comrade Leo Williams. I like that sort of thing. Loyalty, and all that. Leo’s bass-slinging skills were the first ingredients Mick added to the B.A.D. mix after being ousted from The Clash. Good move that. Leo had been a core member of Basement 5, the outfit most readily identified with photographer Dennis Morris. Their music remains remarkable, and as heavy as it gets. Perhaps a certain notoriety is attached to the Basement 5’s works on account of Martin Hannett’s production work. It’s said the old wizard considered these to be his most difficult productions, in all senses. People go on about the oppressiveness of Joy Division, but next to the Basement 5 they were bubblegum, which is no bad thing, but ... The Basement 5 sound mixes dub elements with heavy rock. And I mean heavy rock in the slabs of concrete sound sense. As in intimidating chunks of granite. Hannett has described being exhausted putting their recordings together, as if he had physically been manipulating the monoliths. Listening in you can sense what he means. The most irritating thing is seeing the Basement 5 dismissed casually as a postPiL group. That’s a bit like saying Archie Shepp is a post-Coltrane cat. Yes, but! Sure Dennis Morris and the guys were part of that Lydon inner circle, and ideas rubbed off, but labels just get in the way. An even bigger but is when you get the Basement 5 filed away with Killing Joke. I’ve never really got that one. I’ve never really got Killing Joke either. I used to love that story about Bill Drummond applying for the vacant position as singer in Killing Joke, and their puzzlement that the manager of Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes should be wanting to join their happy band.
I was thinking about that story the other day, and got to digging out my copy of Bill Drummond’s 45 book. The introduction, which comes at the end. By Neal Brown. It suddenly struck me. Of course. Neal Brown. It’s got to be the Neal Brown who was behind the Vincent Units. Of Carnival Song fame. On Y Records. Part of the W10/W11 scene. Raincoats/MoDettes and all that. Lots of reggae and old blues. And art. Neal Brown being an art historian now. It all fits, as they say. I was thinking about Killing Joke too. Thinking perhaps I’ve been a little harsh. After all I’ve grown inordinately fond of a couple of groups who were associated with the Joke, in part via its Malicious Damage imprint. I am thinking specifically of Ski Patrol who were responsible for a few cracking singles in the early ‘80s, which mixed up punk threat, reggae traces and funk excursions in a particularly effective fashion. A few songs worked particularly well, and their Agent Orange single deserves to have pride of place at the end of any mixtape of post-punk adventuresomeness. Red Beat covered similar ground, and thanks to the interest of resurrectionists, illicitly but with the best of intentions, posting their various singles on sites around the world a definite re-evaluation is taking place so that the experiments they were part of can be appreciated. Serves me right for missing out at the time because of the Killing Joke connections and a distrust of old leathers. Still. Prejudice is a funny thing. I might have hesitated at Killing Joke’s label, but I bet many have avoided Weller’s Respond label. A bit of an own goal. One of the early Respond releases, back in 1982, was the Urban Shakedown single, Big Bad Wolf, with Hannett at the controls. Urban Shakedown was Dennis Morris’ postBasement 5 outfit. Amazing single. Bass and drums and ACR style brass. Dread in every sense. Go fish for it!
Pop stars eh? Never satisfied. Funny thing this process of making records. People are rarely satisfied. How often have you heard someone involved in the making of one of your favourite records say that it wasn’t the record it could have been? Maybe. Maybe not. But we are where we are. There have been a lot of words written about the independent labels that emerged as a direct consequence of the punk thing. Rough Trade, Factory, Fast, Zoo, Postcard, Mute and so on. There were a number of quasi independents too. Offshoots of majors. Pre is perhaps the best example. Part of the Charisma empire. Its roster was, on paper, fantastic. Scars, Manicured Noise, Delta 5, Monochrome Set, Prince Far I, Gregory Isaacs, Residents, Tuxedo Moon, and erm Jubilee star Little Nell. Life was never quite that straight forward. Virgin had Dindisc. Polydor had Fiction. It was common practice. Fiction is an interesting one. Started by Chris Parry, a Polydor insider who was responsible for capturing The Jam and Siouxsie and the Banshees for the label, it was initially envisaged as an outlet for The Cure. It gradually expanded, and its early catalogue is particularly interesting. I know people talk about the Factory sound, or the Postcard sound, but I don’t think I have ever seen anyone actually refer to the Fiction sound. If you listen to those early releases there is definitely a Fiction thing there though. The groups might not thank you for it. I
bet they have their own views on how the records should have sounded. But ... There is that line in Shack’s John Kline where Michael Head sings about listening to The Cure’s 10.15 Saturday Night. Indeed. I can remember being 15 in 1979. Being at a party and getting everyone to listen religiously to that song at 10.15 on a Saturday night. That early Cure sound seemed to come out of nowhere. People have tried to analyse it over the years, calling it Joy Division-lite and all that, but they’re way off target. Just as Joy Division would not be the Joy Division so devoutly worshipped now without Martin Hannet shaping their sound, so The Cure would not have got off to such an unusual start without Chris Parry at the controls. It’s bugged me for a long time about just what it is that is so special about those early Fiction releases. And I am talking specifically about The Cure, Purple Hearts, Back To Zero, and The Passions’ first LP. On paper there is not too much to link these groups, but there is something in the sound that binds them together.
It is something to do with space. That first Cure single. The first LP. Those other two singles from around the same time. Boys Don’t Cry. Jumping Someone Else’s Train. The sound is very sparse. There is a lot of space there. It’s like something I heard Bob Dylan say about the old rock ’n’ rollers knowing what to leave out when making records. I read a Purple Hearts interview once where they were talking about how their LP for Fiction, Beat That, didn’t sound the way they wanted, and that Chris Parry had to really rein them in and stop them adding lots of pop art effects and feedback. I think that sort of puts the finger on it. If there is something that unifies the disparate Fiction groups it is that restraint. And space. I think of these groups’ sound in terms of the four points of a square. At one corner there is the guitar. At another there’s the bass, then the drums at another. And then the voice at the final corner. Each participant is doing their own thing in their corner. So if you’re standing at the centre the sound is all around you at the edges and you have to reach out to it. You’re not suffocated by it. The guitar sound. It’s very jagged. Quite staccato. Insistent. Very un-rock. The bass sound is bouncy. Bouyant. Unobtrusive. Carrying the melody. But very danceable. In an unobvious way. Same with the drums. Then there’s the vocals. Quite restrained. Quite off-kilter. Quite isolated. Those early Fiction releases. I can’t believe anyone can get by without having a copy of The Cure’s Three Imaginary Boys in their collection. Or some compilation that covers the best tracks with the early singles. I rate it more highly than Unknown Pleasures or Entertainment. It’s certainly more radical. I know you’re not meant to blaspheme, but there you go.
The same goes for the Purple Hearts and Beat That! The same goes for that solitary Back To Zero single. One of the all time great pop moments. I’ve always believed that. It’s really only recently though that I’ve come to really appreciate the other part of the Fiction equation. The Passions and their first LP. Michael and Miranda. Another product seemingly of that W10/W11 scene, where everyone is called Gogan and has played in everyone else’s group at some stage, with all links leading to the 101-ers and the Raincoats somehow. Perhaps. Michael and Miranda is a fantastic record. It’s hard to understand why it’s been so undervalued. It’s up there with the MoDettes and the Au Pairs. Maybe it’s that Fiction thing. Perhaps if it had been on Rough Trade things might have been different. Seen in a different light. Of course the real trouble is that when you mention The Passions it’s almost automatic to think of that hit single about being in love with a German film star. Not my cup of tea. Interestingly that is all about what happened next chez Fiction. The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds. The Associates’ Affectionate Punch. The sorcerer’s apprentice Mike Hedges steps out of the shadows, and the sound gets cloudier and fuller. There is less space to breathe. The Purple Hearts had moved on. Back To Zero were long gone too. Mike Hedges on graduating from being Chris Parry’s engineer went on to do many special things, with The Cure, Wah!, the Banshees, the Undertones. People still get misty eyed about Sulk and so they should. But give me the dry, aridity of Parry’s parched productions any day. The funny thing is that if The Jam hadn’t of stumbled on the approach to All Mod Cons, leading to Parry stepping back, then the Fiction thing may never have happened.
Listening to Stacy Epps, as I have been doing a lot lately, I have been struck by an urge to dig out my copy of Revival by Martine Girault. Remember that one? A subversively sweet slice of soul that in the early/mid ‘90s’ supposed spirit of openness seemed to fit in everywhere, and everyone wanted to claim it as their own, as part of what they were doing, where they were at. There was a great LP to go with it too. One that is ripe for a revival.
A new beginning. The overwhelming dominance of the uncommon Eykah. The new Amerykah opening its arms. Doors opening. Ears newly attuned. Kindred souls achieving appropriate commercial and critical success. You know the names by now. Stacy Epps. Georgia Anne Muldrow. Declaime. Eric Lau. Janelle Monae. Jean Grae. Jay Electronica. A new spirit of adventure rightly rewarded. The repercussions far reaching. Yeah. Right.
The Awakening may be Stacy’s debut full length set, but the deeper you dig the more impressive her credentials are. If it matters, she’s worked with Shape of Broad Minds, Oh No, Madlib, Flying Lotus, among others, and as part of the Sol Uprising duo. No one can accuse her of taking the easy option. Though equally important she never loses touch with the r’n’b roots. Indeed, Floatin’, her finest moment so far, really is as uplifting and beautiful as the aforementioned Revival.
Ah well. The Awakening. By Stacy Epps. It was, as Kevin Rowland once said, a huge success the moment it was finished in the studio. Certainly one of the best records to emerge from the soul underground. Stacy may be based in Atlanta but, as the poet put it, it’s not where she’s from, it’s all about where she’s at. The where in question is that strange whirlpool that has all sorts of abstract hip hop, cosmic soul, and edgy electronica caught up in the eddy.
Listening to Stacy Epps, which I recommend thoroughly, I am minded to dig out old records by the Poor Righteous Teachers. That sense of consciousness. A message in the music. Words with something to impart integral to the art of song. And somewhat at odds with a lot of the hip hop community. In that sense the Poor Righteous Teachers perhaps had more in common with a contemporary outfit like Moonshake. Oh yes.
Now I doubt that the PRTs’ Wise Intellect ever met Moonshake’s Callahan. I have no idea whether they’ve even heard of one another. I’d like to think so. But to my admittedly somewhat twisted mind they have a lot in common. Awkward so-andso’s. A definite gift of the gab. A way with words. A sense of the ridiculous. And strangely enough neither hit the top of the charts. Funny that. Strangely I hear something of Moonshake in things like Stacy Epps’ songs. That I suspect is something to do with a mutual more than passing familiarity with the works of Can and Alice Coltrane. Perhaps. Certainly Moonshake’s music was wrought in an age when there was a lot of joy to be had in discovering the treasure troves containing old Impulse! and Neu! Recordings. Those exclamation marks were not optional. The Awakening. Maybe the clue is in the title. The Awakening being the name of an outfit on the legendary Black Jazz label, for whom they recorded the exceptional Hear, Sense and Feel set. Beyond that I know very little about the outfit. But Black Jazz. Wow. It’s one of those imprints, like Strata East, that you can guarantee will get jazz headz drooling. And they’ve got a point. I mean if you start with the records Doug Carn made for Black Jazz, you can’t go wrong. With Jean on the vocals. And there’s that Maiden Voyage record by Kellee Patterson too, which is just beautiful. Those records had great covers too. So, yes, spiritual jazz, as it seems to have come to be known. The outward expression of the internalisation of the politically-charged fire music. A search for a deeper meaning, a higher power, a more profound truth. Something that’s certainly there in Stacy Epps’ music. And, well, in these days of moral bankruptcy, celebrity saturation, information suffocation, and consumer narcosis, that’s got to be a good thing.
It’s worth pointing out that the very fine Jazzman imprint put out an excellent Spiritual Jazz set a short time ago. Focusing on what it calls esoteric, modal and deep jazz from the underground (1968-1977), the music is drawn from the numerous small, local, community and collective labels that flourished at that time. It’s a cracking collection, beautifully presented, but that’s pretty much what you would expect from Monsignor Gerald Short and comrades. If perchance you are not familiar with the activities of Jazzman then I propose a visit to the Jazzman Records site. It’s one of my favourite places to visit on the web. This is largely due to the fine podcasts Gerald posts, where he gets to play a few tunes, and invites a learned guest to do likewise. There is some wonderful music up there. And while there is a fair degree of whatsit waving, in the sense of look what I’ve got cratediggers, that can be overlooked as the sharing of rare and beautiful music is something to be encouraged and celebrated. Trivia lovers will appreciate the fact that the wondrous Kim Weston sings on one track featured on the Spiritual Jazz set. I mention that because I like to mention Kim Weston at any available opportunity. And it helps illustrate how this music is really at heart something quite beautiful and accessible. Deep, yeah. But often astonishingly melodic. Take something like Let The Sunshine In by The Sons and Daughters of Lite. I think the good people at Ubiquity have salvaged this one. Anyway, it’s a funky, jazzy, sunny number, with lots of harmonies and flutes, a really deep spiritual feel to the whole record, but particularly the title track. One for the jazz dancefloors, sure, but imagine the effect it would have if played on the radio in the morning. Maybe next to Stacy Epps’ Floatin’. That would put a spring in your step.
It’s likely I first fully registered the name of Andrew Hill on reading a book called Points of Departure, appropriately enough.
This was a
collection of essays on modern jazz by a very fine, witty and perceptive writer called Robin Tomens. I’m lucky enough to have a copy inscribed with a quotation from Lao Tzu, which says: “If the greatest achievement is incomplete then its usefulness is unimpaired”.
In his collection Robin makes a strong case for the series of LPs Andrew Hill made for Blue Note in the 1960s. Compulsion. Judgment, Smokestack, And particularly Point of Departure. Naturally. Point of Departure, Robin said, well, every minute is worth listening to. That is, as in a record to listen to, not just to hear. I liked that. Deep listening. Over the years I have made a point of collecting, one way or another, those albums Andrew Hill recorded for Blue Note in the 1960s. Black Fire, Grass Roots, and so on. I had him right up there in the list of jazz greats. Then I came across Lift Every Voice. His final Blue Note outing. I think. If so, what a way to go. A touch of fire in the music, and beautiful choral arrangements. It is now my favourite Andrew Hill record. A challenging record, yes, but one of incredible beauty. Oh, that’s easy to say I know, but this really is. Lift Every Voice, besides Andrew and the chorus, has great compositions and some great individual playing, particularly from Woody Shaw on trumpet and Carlos Garnett on sax. I have to confess I’m not that familiar with these guys. I know Garnett recorded a series of LPs for Muse in the 1970s, and I know a few of those.
Black Love, for example, is an intense set of spiritual jazz definitely worth finding. Ah but those choral arrangements on Lift Every Voice. Fantastic. I am a soft touch though when it comes to choral arrangements, particularly on jazz records. You know those classifications on the back of DVDs? Contains strong violence. Scenes of a sexual nature. Nudity. And so on. I’m sure they are more of an inducement than a deterrent. It’s often struck me that record labels are missing a trick, and could try something similar. You know, like songs contain solos of a Robert Quine like nature. I’d go for it. I’d also buy pretty much anything that said this record contains deep modal jazz with frequent use of choral vocal accompaniment. Marcel Cellier writing about his 1975 Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares project states that in its sung form the human voice is more forceful than the spoken form, and being well aware of this simple fact the Bulgarian people have raised singing up to become the strongest in their variety of art forms. Anyone who has heard those recordings will understand exactly what he means. The way the voices work together. What Cellier calls a piece of filigree work.
It is the intricate mesh of sound that contains the collective power. It really doesn’t matter that you may not have a clue what’s being sung. What was it The Pop Group sang? “Truth is a feeling. It’s not a sound. We don’t need words”. I guess like a lot of people with my punk/mod background I was first struck by the possibilities of choral arrangements in jazz on hearing Donald Byrd’s Cristo Redentor used to such striking effect in De Niro’s A Bronx Tale. Then later tracking down a copy of the A New Perspective set which it was lifted from. Then learning about the roles of Duke Pearson and Coleridge Parkinson in the making of this amazing record. And how it had an antecedent in Max Roach’s It’s Time, recorded the year before, 1962, for Impulse! with the vocal choir also directed by Coleridge Parkinson. Reading Roach’s own sleevenotes it’s striking how ambitious an undertaking this was. The gravity of the occasion. The challenge of integrating the trained voice with the music of the jazz musician. He wrote: “The voice, as an instrument, has always fascinated me. The abundance of variations the voice can use in changing the color of one note are infinite. It was with these tonal images in mind that led me to prepare this album”. It’s one thing that It’s Time and A New Perspective, and indeed Mary Lou Williams’ Black Christ of the Andes from much the same time, are such fantastic records. Yet it’s equally fascinating the meshing of the classical choral traditions with the jazz art, the blues and gospel roots. It is a formula, if you like, which many people have experimented with over the ensuing years in different ways, though I’ve yet to hear it work anywhere near as well as on Andrew Hill’s revivifying Lift Every Voice. There is, though, a third stream. A different sort of tradition. More profane than sacred. Where the choral tradition
is rooted in vocalese. Or in Pop Group parlance where the singers don’t need words. A tradition of collective singing where the voices are used as instruments. The protagonists are varied. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross spring to mind. But there is a Gallic tradition that is perhaps more fascinating. A tradition started when Blossom Dearie put together the Blue Stars of France in the Paris of the early 1950s, mixing clusters of close harmonies and cool jazz to great effect. The Blue Stars’ ranks would include Mimi Perrin and Christiane Legrand (Michel’s sister) who would go on to work with Ward Swingle as part of Les Double Six, whose vocal work would attract the approval of Quincy Jones, Dizzy, and Bud Powell, with whom Les Double Six would work. Mention of Bud Powell reminds me of my favourite bit in Robin’s book where he refers to a David Goodis doomed hero on his way to certain death pausing to check out Bud on the radio, and Robin identifying with this then his missus says ain’t that just typical of a bloke. Anyway Les Double Six evolved into the Swingle Singers. Ah. Still with Christiane Legrand. And oh the Swingle Singers eh? If you haven’t got the record they did with the MJQ then you haven’t got any records. Simple as that. And of course in a later incarnation they appear on the Style Council’s Confessions. So you see the way I am. A soft touch for choral outings. Still getting excited at finding something by the Novi Singers I haven’t heard before. I mean late ‘60s vocal jazz on the Polish state-owned record label perhaps shouldn’t work but oh how it does. Track down their Bossa Nova set, and then tell me music’s not a universal language. Oh. Just remembered Vaughan With Voices. Sarah singing with a Danish choir. In 1963. Very dark and moody. Odd when there was so much competition for Sassy. Like Nancy.
I was just thinking about when I would have first heard Nancy Wilson sing. It would have to be on an old Capitol Soul Casino compilation. She would have been singing End of Our Love. Just one of many highlights on that record. Patrice Holloway would have been on there too. And Gloria Jones doing Heartbeat ... That was then. Now. 25 years and more on. I find myself sitting and listening to Nancy Wilson a lot. I find I listen to her when times are tough. And I need a calming influence. Nancy. She’s my calming chameleon. Even when I was trying out my backflips and spins, kicking up a cloud of talcum powder to the strains of Nancy singing about the end of our love, I was if you like arching my eyebrows in surprise, and thinking surely she’s more of a jazz singer rather than a straight soul singer. I knew Northern Soul was a broad church, and a good place to worship, but even so ...
I’ve heard a lot of Nancy Wilson recordings now. There are a lot of Nancy Wilson recordings to hear. In the 1960s and the 1970s she made something like 50 LPs. I’ve not heard them all, but I’ve not heard one I don’t like. Some I love more than others, but there’s a lot of loving to do.
bossa, Motown, and the Great American Songbook. She’s benefitted from working with some of the greats. From Billy May to Gene Page. But the record I keep coming back to is her Welcome To My Love, one she made back in the ‘60s with Oliver Nelson. It has that perfect mix of sophistication and edginess.
I say Nancy’s a chameleon because I struggle to think of another singer who succeeds in switching so perfectly from one style to another. Jazz singer. Soul singer. Still covers an awful lot.
Great songs. Great performances. In The Heat of The Night. Angel Eyes. For Once In My Life. I’m Always Drunk in San Francisco. That last one. A Tommy Wolf song. I’ve got a bit of a thing about Tommy Wolf. And his songs. He had a hand in Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most. What more do you need to know? This song that Nancy sang though. I first heard it on a Cannonball Adderley record, with Ernie Andrews singing, and David Axelrod producing. A little before that was made Nancy had made her own record with Cannonball. She later did a cracking version of Mercy Mercy Mercy. Oh, you know the song.
Intimate torch songs. Northern Soul floorshakers. Smooth standards. Big band ballads. Elegant easy listening. Gritty gospel down home style. Fabulos funky Philly grooves. Over the top wall of sound wailing. Sophisticated symphonic soul. Raunchy r’n’b. Urbane disco. You name it, Nancy’s done it. Better. Like most performers, Nancy has sung a bit of Broadway, Bacharach, Beatles,
Oliver Nelson was the perfect partner for Nancy. Composer, arranger, saxophonist, visionary. Until he was taken from us too soon. Nelson, like Nancy, excelled at whatever he turned his mind to, in whatever field he chose to work in. I first came across Oliver Nelson on his early Impulse! set, The Blues and the Abstract Truth. A record I confess I bought on account of the title alone. The Blues and the Abstract Truth. Whew! What a title. Great record too. If you can make it past the exceptionalness of Nelson’s signature tune, Stolen Moments. It’s a great way to start a record. Nelson had many other magnificent moments. On records of his own, and in collaboration with others. Diana Ross, James Brown, Ray Charles, Johnny Hartman, Leon Thomas, Gato Barbieri on the soundtrack for Last Tango in Paris, Sonny Rollins on the soundtrack for Alfie. He was on the coolest of labels too. Impulse! Flying Dutchman. The latter, wel, a label where you can find Teresa Brewer and Angela Davis. Oliver Nelson. The man was involved in loads of stuff. Even did The Creator Has A Master Plan with Satchmo singing. You need to hear that. And he was behind the themes for some of my favourite TV shows. Ones that subconsciously shaped me when I was musically proverbially
knee high. Colombo. Ironsides. Six Million Dollar Man. Bionic Woman. That sort of thing. Imagine the number of times people that heard those. Now that’s subversive. Funnily I’m not normally a fan of the swinging big band sound, but I love the way Oliver Nelson evolved, adapted, staying ahead of the game. Like adding some soul syncopation as the ‘70s progressed, which really worked. Like Nancy. It’s interesting how some of Nancy’s funkier or disco-inclined cuts of the mid to late 1970s seem suddenly to be among the most in demand. That’s partly because they’re fantastic records. Like the wonderful Come Get To This. And it’s partly because Erykah turned to Nancy’s 1978 Music On My Mind LP for the high profile sample of I’m In Love on her Honey track from the exceptional New Amerykah set with its wonderful accompanying ‘vinyl porn’ video which must have had the crate diggers drooling, and quite right too. Talk about knowing your audience! So Nancy Wilson. And Oliver Nelson. You suddenly wake up and think I’ve got more great recordings of theirs than seems feasible, and yet, well. Well, those that know, know. And those that don’t? They could have themselves a lot of fun finding out.
I haven’t heard the song in years ... but I did always like that line the guy sings about Bobbie Gentry whispering in his ear again ... I thought of those words the other day when I was listening to Jody Reynolds and Bobbie Gentry sing about the stranger in the mirror. Hoping for some background information on how this single came about, this great meeting of minds, logging on I found instead that Jody had just left us and Bobbie wasn’t telling anyway ...
Ah timing. And that’s not the first time something like that has happened. A while back now I got very taken with Jo Stafford. Do I Hear A Waltz? Know that one? That record made me go weak at the knees. But in particular her gorgeous American Folk Songs set struck me. And I’d heard one or two of her duets with Frankie Laine, and wanted to know more about the context. And, yes, you guessed, the soulless search engine took me straight to a series of tributes to the recently departed Jo. Oh. So, Jody Reynolds. Rockabilly provocateur. As one obituary put it. A man perhaps best known for his late-‘50s hit Endless Sleep. A song very much in the heart of darkness (I read too that Jody was a Joseph Conrad fan) tradition of American folk songs. Like the ones Jo Stafford sang so beautifully. It’s said that the striking combination of moody, silky strings and the crystal clarity of Jo’s singing on that record inspired a very young Judy Collins to start singing. You can see why. Jody Reynolds was at his best on the dark, moody, haunted, menacing ballads. Like Endless Sleep, yes. But there are plenty more. Fire of Love (yes, that one ... but I never got the Gun Club, so don’t ask me), The Girl With The Raven Hair, The Whipping Post, Tear for Jesse, Girl From King Marie,
Devil Girl, and in particular the other song he sang with Bobbie, their Requiem For Love. The heart of darkness in the folk idiom, the country ballad tradition. Oh that’s been discussed enough. You only have to listen to Jo Stafford singing Barbara Allen. Or the Louvin Brothers doing Knoxville Girl. Jody getting into trouble for loving beautiful blackeyed girls. And when I was growing up we had Terry Jacks and his seasons in the sun. That just came up in a Shena Mackay short story and I can’t get it out of my head. Oh well. He was in the Poppy Family though. Rockabilly provocateurs. I do like that phrase. I know the word rockabilly describes quite a broad church, but I am constantly amazed, and delighted, by the sheer volume of fantastic material out there. Not just the stuff that appears thanks to the diligent salvage work of labels like the Ace and Bear families. There is all the stuff Mark Lamarr shares. All the odd sets of compilations the resurrectionists on the web share. Country Hicks. Rebel Rockabilly. Dangerous Rock’n’Roll. Etcetera. Small town labels. One-offs. And the overlooked artists. Great stuff from people like Warren Smith, Jack Scott, Ray Kay, Bobby Lee Trammell, Andy Anderson, and many more.
I’m sure that Jody Reynolds may be considered by purists not to be primitive enough. Who cares? What matters is somehow that it came to pass that Jody found himself in a studio with a very young Bobbie Gentry recording a couple of absolute classic songs. You listen to them now, and you think whew these are familiarly Nancy and Lee. Ah but then you think hang on a mo these songs are from a couple of years before aren’t they? But of course the duo tradition is as old as the hills. And there was a day when no one listened to Nancy and Lee. Eyebrows were raised if you recall when Lydia and Rowland covered Some Velvet Morning ... Like a lot of people in the 1980s I had a terrific time of it scouring charity shops and combing boot sales for anything vaguely associated with Nancy and Lee in their heyday. Oh I loved all that stuff. The ones now rightly regarded as classics. Sand, Sugar Town, Summer Wine. And so on. The funny thing is that with my mod prejudices I concentrated on the ‘60s. Totally missing the record Nancy and Lee made, together again, in the early ‘70s. My loss. My excuse? Well, I found the UK edition a number of years back in its cassette edition for 50p in a charity shop. On the UK edition the set starts with the (hit) single, Did You Ever? I found it hard to get past that. And of course with cassettes, certainly with my tape deck, you don’t have the luxury of being able to skip tracks. So. I stumbled across the US edition. That starts with Lee’s Arkansas Coal (Suite). Just about the best thing that Lee wrote, which is saying something. Actually now I appreciate that the LP is chock stock full of golden
nuggets. Paris Summer. Friendship Train. And so on. But it’s Arkansas Coal I keep coming back to. That heart of darkness thing again. On a lighter note I was just listening to Back On The Road Again. Nancy and Lee at their lightest. And did they just mention Tommy Blake? Tommy Blake as in the rockabilly renegade? Well, maybe. Lee would have crossed paths with him, just as they did with Jody Reynolds’. Those rockabilly roots. Tommy Blake. As in F-olding Money. A singularly appropriate song for these trying times. As covered by fellow fighter Mark E Smith. And as featured on the legendary jukebox at Eric’s? I think so. Courtesy of the great Roger Eagle. Of course. There’s a fantastic tribute to Roger by Bill Drummond out there if you fish around. There is also a brilliant interview with Roger about his days as a DJ at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel club back in modernist times, which can be found chez Jack That Cat Was Clean which is itself a fantastic resource. I remember the description of Eagle in Cope’s Head On as a forty-something, own-nothing, sleep-with-my-records type. Hmm. I remember Julian’s description of Subway Sect at Eric’s too ...
Ah yes. That early incarnation of Subway Sect. What can I say? This photo tells you all you need to know. This fantastic Subway Sect photo has been shamelessly borrowed from the Kill Your Pet Puppy website. The site itself is one of my favourite places to visit on the web. I don’t know if you’re aware, but KYPP back in the day was in the forefront of the whole anarcho-punk thing. I don’t just mean the fashion thing. There were so many kids round our way walking round with their hair spiked up and their battered leather jackets with the oh so obligatory big circle-A n the back. Or old combat jackets. Like Rodney in Only Fools and Horses. Didn’t he once appear in an episode wearing a UK Decay t-shirt? Nope. In fairness KYPP was always on the frontline, living the life, walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Anarcho activism. Squatting. Animal rights. And so on. Now the spirit lives on via the website. Part of the new activism is sharing sounds from those days. Some you’d want to run a mile from. Some a welcome reminder that prejudice is never
a good thing. And there’s some good things in that anarcho punk world. That is, Zounds (particularly when produced by the great Adam Kidron), Poison Girls, Annie Anxiety, The Mob and others close to Crass made some cracking music. KYPP’s musical outlook extends much further than the archetypal anarcho sounds. Collaborator Penguin is a man of taste (in music and scooters), and there are some essential posts, particularly on a Mark Perry theme and some reggae archive material related to DEB and Prince Far I. Anyway, the reason I mention this is that the participants’ anecdotes and tales around the music are fascinating, and in stark contrast to the deadly dull way most musicians talk about their own music. But occasionally it is important to know where music’s coming from. So here is Rob Symmons, in his own words, on the road from that Subway Sect to the very wonderful future primitives Fallen Leaves.
“Believe it or not, I started a group once before back in 1976. I started it with my best friend at school and we somehow managed to play with The Sex Pistols at what would later be known as the beginning of punk. The event was the 100 Club’s Punk Rock Festival and our group was called Subway Sect. We really didn’t have a clue how to play. That point is important because it’s also crucial to how we started The Fallen Leaves. “Although it is now long forgotten, a year later we toured with The Clash on their White Riot tour that included a fairly lively affair at the Rainbow in London. That was another pivotal moment. The original Subway Sect fizzled out before we had a chance to release our LP. I stopped playing guitar and did other things. “The Fallen Leaves started around four years ago when this bloke Steve Beeho found me and wanted to interview me. I have no idea who for, or how he found me. I’d never done an interview before. We did it over the phone. I talked about those days, but nothing ever came out because his tape recorder turned out to be faulty. But we struck up a friendship that remains to this day. “Steve encouraged me to listen to music again. I’d barely listened to much modern music. He made me cassette tapes of stuff he thought I might like, such as Maureen Tucker’s first LP. He was convinced I must have heard of Billy Childish, but I hadn’t. His name meant nothing to me. He kept sending tapes so I would listen to music again, always including one or two Billy Childish songs at the end, so I would surreptitiously hear them. “I wasn’t impressed at first, but then he did me a Billy home kitchen tape that I liked, and one of him doing Jimmy Reed stuff. Well, I love Jimmy Reed, and that tape prompted me to seek Childish out. I’d never heard anyone else doing Jimmy Reed. “I saw Billy Childish play live, and he happened to mention the Rainbow show I played at with The Clash when the chairs were ripped out. He asked the audience if anyone had been there. I told him after the show that I played there. I told Billy that I liked his guitar because it reminded of Bo Diddley’s. When I added that I liked his sound, he said he couldn’t play but simply followed a pattern. I said that was exactly what I used to do and I just loved the sound. He remembered my old group. “It was seeing Billy that made me think I could play again. I was always told I couldn’t play. I
didn’t think it mattered, but to others it did. He made me want to, but I couldn’t do it on my own, so I thought of my old friend Rob Green. I dug out some old tapes of songs I had made with him in 1976. Luckily, I’d kept them. Rob didn’t believe they were us. He couldn’t remember doing them. “Rob had no means of playing music except for an old cassette player in his car. I kept leaving tapes of good stuff in there, to get him interested, much as Steve Beeho had done for me. I tried to persuade him to see Childish, and eventually succeeded. Rob liked it and was instantly fired up into forming a group, too. Billy’s sound was so good that we just had to. “A friend lent us a guitar and we went through our old songs, snatches of which were on these tapes. Rob didn’t remember writing any of these songs and we had to get a friend in who could play to show us the chords again. “That was fine as far as it went, but we wondered if we could do new songs. I had some old tapes from the White Riot tour, some that I’d taped when Joe Strummer was in the hotel bedroom, where you can hear him showing me some guitar riffs to practice. One was taped right after the Rainbow concert, when Joe and I went back to the hotel, shunning the party laid on by CBS that the others went along to. “I played some of these tapes to Rob including one riff that I thought was Joe showing me how to play “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”. He said, That’s not “Stepping Stone”, that’s “Have Love Will Travel” by The Sonics. I should have known. Steve Beeho had taped them for me and it was a revelation. I’d never heard their fantastic sound before. “We tried to copy the riff but couldn’t quite get it. However, Rob told me to keep playing it. I did and he immediately came up with the melody line and words to “Trouble”. It was all done in five minutes. That was it: we knew we could write new songs. “Now ready to form our group, we bought an amp and guitar, got Paul Myers our old bassist and Paul Cook in to help out on drums, told old friend Vic Godard what we were doing and he said we could support him for one night only at his residency at Brentford Football Club. That was it. The Leaves were off.”
Too good to be forgotten. What more can I say? I heard that song on the radio the other day. It sounded great. I was jigging round the kitchen. Never a good idea when you’re making a cup of tea. It was bugging me though. Whose version was it anyway? Had to look it up. Of course. It was Amazulu. Covering the Chi Lites. Their big hit. I remember now seeing them do it on Top of the Pops. Lots of dreadlocks bouncing around. In that scenario alone there are enough sociopolitical aspects to keep cultural commentators amused for ages. The old chestnut of having to do a cover to get a hit. What does that say about the world? Well, it never bothered Frank Sinatra. Or Ella. But then if you’re a bright young thing and the label boss is using emotional blackmail to coerce you into recording a song you have no time for. In effect they’re saying that if you don’t record this you’re finished. It happened to Makin’ Time. Around that time. The mid ‘80s. Stiff’s supremo cornered them into covering Costello’s Pump It Up. Made them look chumps. So that was that. They went off and did their own thing instead. Self-financed an outstanding set of their own which they cannily
called No Lumps of Fat Or Gristle Guaranteed. It’s one of the best LPs ever. You’d expect that though with Fay Hallam singing and writing the songs. Others do covers of their own volition. Comrades from the Paisley Underground got together as Rainy Day and created a beautiful set of songs. There’s a couple of Buffalo Springfield songs, a Dylan one, and ones we know better by the Byrds and Beach Boys. The Velvets and Big Star are represented too. Exquisite versions. Could have been a disaster. Could have been sacrilege. But pretty much anything with Kendra Smith on is special. So, yeah, it worked. Really well. Of course a similar project here would have taken an awful lot of nerve. But it would have been fun. For example, the Paul Quinn and Edwyn Collins cover of Pale Blue Eyes is so perfect that it’s always left me pining for more. Imagine that as part of a suite of songs. Imagine if Alan Horne had overseen a similar project to the Rainy Day thing. Ah well. It’s a thought.
And I was just thinking of a song to leave you with. I think it has to be Ruby and the Romantics singing Young Wings Can Fly ... Higher Than You Know. Or the rocksteady cover version ...