“The ‘pop is dead’ doom merchants support their arguments by claiming that we are living in a retro culture, where everything is re-released, re-packaged and re-created, but what proof is there that the flourishing world of independent re-issues is helping to kill new music? When so much of the best music is invariably informed by past strangeness, why generalise? The re-issue is as complex as pop itself.” Those words ... that’s how I started a 1993 article for the Independent Catalogue, an investigative piece on the rise of reissue labels in the independent sector for the trade magazine that was actually a better pop publication than pretty much anything else around at the time. There followed a characteristically combative quote from Joe Foster of Rev-ola, Creation’s reissue outlet: “It’s not a retro thing or looking back. We’re making things available that should have been available all the time. It shouldn’t be a question of re-issuing these records. To an extent, some of these things are deleted because of economic reasons, but a lot of people’s entire musical output has been written out of the history books by various musical mafias, which is frightening. There is that official list, the Q magazine pantheon of real stars, where everybody else is neglected and relegated to being weirdo nothings. As we go along and slot various things into place, they’ll be proved more and more resoundingly wrong. We dare to suggest there’s always more.” There is always more: it’s just the way things are Joe, it’s just the way things are. What seems
amusing now is that at the height of one of the most exciting periods in musical history the ‘pop is dead’ brigade, those enemies of progress, were spreading doom and gloom. That’s a different debate, one for another day. The main thrust of my 1993 article on reissues was the way the ascendancy of the compact disc was changing things, and providing an ideal format: the potential of collecting 25 lost songs over 75 minutes. I don’t think for one minute I could have imagined how things would spiral out of control, and I have nothing but contempt for the ‘heritage entertainment industry’ that has presented us with absurd situations like digital media outlets reporting on Twitter outrages about websites crashing due to unexpected demand for tickets to see Kraftwerk perform their LPs at the Tate Modern in London at £60 a time which is about the amount of allowance a full-time carer is entitled to receive to live on for a week. In 1993 there was nothing new about reissue labels. I have a March 1981 Rough Trade mail order catalogue, from just before the heyday of new pop, which features predominantly postpunk and reggae releases, but there are pages devoted to reissues: mainly old rockabilly, doowop, rhythm & blues titles on Ace and Charly, but also specialist blues labels like Red Lightnin’ and Flyright. Around the same time the Demon subsidiary Edsel would release incredibly important compilations of The Action and The Creation. One of the label’s founders was Andrew Lauder, who just before this at Radar
had balanced vital new releases by The Pop Group, Richard Hell, and Elvis Costello with reissues from Pere Ubu, Iggy Pop and James Williamson, La Dusseldorf, Shadows of Knight, Red Crayola, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, the Electric Prunes, and Mac Curtis. Beyond this 1993 article, as the decade developed, there emerged a number of labels which were making lost sounds available again that could claim to be changing lives, making us look at the history of popular culture in an entirely new way, rather than reassuring us with what we already know. And they provided an all-round enriching aesthetic experience. Certain salvage operations became incredibly important in my life, in the same way as contemporary labels like Mo’Wax or No U-Turn were. Ideas seemed to ricochet between the new music and the reissue merchants. The old and the new complemented one another. Other things changed: I found myself buying less and less old vinyl, and more and more new releases of unattainable/unimagined sounds on CD. These reissue labels, helmed by enthusiasts determined to transcend niche interests, provided us with great music, sure, but also their own collection of visionaries, scholars, characters acting as compilers, annotators and designers worthy of their own hagiography. This is a celebration of four of these organisations, their activity, and certain specifically significant releases.
“We were into reggae, and that was all really” – Vic Godard on the origins of Subway Sect “Our absence is what remains of us” – Catherine O’Flynn, The News Where You Are
I have been thinking a lot about the Blood and Fire label since reading Bill Sykes’ valuable book about Roger Eagle, Sit Down! Listen To This! I hadn’t realised quite how close the links were between Roger and the label, spiritually speaking. But the book does make clear that
two of the label’s founders, Elliot Rashman and Bob Harding owe a huge part of their musical education to Roger. As a kid Elliot first came across Roger when he was running The Magic Village club in Manchester, just as the ‘60s turned psychedelic. And Bob knew Roger from when he was a member of the Albertos, and Roger would foist tapes upon them of music they needed to hear. Knowing Roger was such a big fan of reggae, and specifically of dub, I suppose I should have made the connection, given the Nor’ Westerly location and all that. The aim of Blood and Fire at its inception was to present reggae reissues in a way that matched the quality of releases in any other field, such as the jazz market. Steve Barrow was brought on board as A&R director, and it is his name that is seen the most often, as compiler and annotator. Steve is a fascinating figure: his name is familiar pre-B&F for his work with Trojan and as an author on The Rough Guide to Reggae. But, again, I didn’t realise how often his path had crossed mine. There is a particularly enlightening interview with Steve on the Mod Culture website, conducted by Doug Hadgraft, which provides one of the best insights yet into the early modernists’ lifestyle in London. And the text reveals that Steve’s is one of the familiar faces featured in Richard Barnes’ mod book which was a sacred text for a new generation. From around that same time, there were the volumes of Intensified! Original Ska which Steve compiled for Island, and which proved to be a revelation in the 2 Tone era. I really love the
fact that an original mod, a real jazz aficionado, from east London went on to become one of the world’s foremost reggae historians.
The art of dub as practised in Jamaica in the second half of the 1970s is one of the great joys of the civilised world. It’s a brilliant example of creative energy being focused in one place at a particular time, like bossa nova in Brazil and house music in Chicago at other times. Many of Blood and Fire’s 50-odd releases over a period of ten years-or-so would relate to dub reggae, and there was massive interest in the concept of dub in that period. It was very much a living thing. Its influence reached far and wide: the digidub practitioners, the Basic Channel crowd, the Ambient Dub compilations, jungle, Bristol blues and roots, Tortoise and the Chicago underground, remix culture generally, and so on. Dub! People even spoke the word with special emphasis, making it sound portentous. The word was said with reverence. They’d roll that one syllable around with relish, giving it a
mystical aura. Writers and cultural commentators would tie themselves up in knots trying to explain dub away. But the beauty of dub is that it means different things to different people. “He starts the record with the treble right up, no bass. It’s a searing, riveting sound, changachanga-changa. When he brings back the bass it sounds like thunder, a million watts, a musical explosion. Bass and treble are swopped and changed at key points. The dread dem love it, the daughter dem a rub it ...” Carl Gayle describes a King Tubby sound system session in Kingston for Black Music in June 1975. Listening again to and thinking about the great dub titles and collections Blood and Fire presented us with, it seems striking how the electric guitar played such a vivid part: not (just) the bass but the six-string instrument. The 1975 Dub Me set by Morwell Unlimited Meet King Tubby’s that Blood and Fire made available in 1997 is a striking example of this. Funnily enough, it’s a record that Roger Eagle was particularly keen to see reissued, and he is credited in the sleevenotes. The record itself features some of the most famous of Jamaican guitarists: Eric ‘Binga Bunny’ Lamont, Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, and Tony Chin, while Errol ‘Flabba’ Holt plays the bass. I think this Morwell Unlimited Meet King Tubby’s record is the Blood and Fire release I return to the most. There’s just something a little different about it. Maybe it’s something to do with it
being made before the dub format really became established. The bass leads the proceedings, probing and exploring, writhing and beguiling. The drums are busy at both ends: the bass pedal booms and thuds, the cymbals swish and hiss, snares crack and crash, the percussive cowbells ring and sing. Those guitars clang and toll, ricocheting rhythmically and deliberately. Sweet vocal phrases drift past intermittently as if carried on the wind. Thunder rumbles ominously. It’s easy to imagine King Tubby at his mixing desk, stripping that away, intensifying that, but he can only play with the ingredients to hand, and he is blessed by having such ravishing raw materials to conjure with, such great musicians participating. The sound has to be there before he can strip it down. People write and talk of Tubby as a musician, using his mixing desk as an instrument. But wasn’t he more of a conductor, coaxing and drawing the sounds out of the equipment, accentuating this, subduing that; a lightning conductor even? It’s tempting to imagine Tubby at work: the electrician and magician, with his technique and trickery, effects and echo, delay and distortion, resonance and reverberation. What was he looking for in the music? What was his motivation? Was he seeking space in a crowded island and a claustrophobic community? I love the space in King Tubby’s dub productions from the latter half of the 1970s. I love the room to breathe and dream. It’s something similar to the way, say, some ECM recordings of the same
vintage have been drawing me in of late. And if I had little idea at the time about the scope of King Tubby’s work I had far less awareness about ECM, its sound, approach and aesthetics. But then I wouldn’t be enjoying the sense of discovery now exploring the works of Keith Jarrett, Egberto Gismonti, Nana Vasconcelos, Eberhard Weber, John Abercrombie, Ralph Towner, John Surman, Azimuth. And oh again that sense of space, in the recorded sound and the suggested landscapes. Is it far fetched to suggest similarities between what King Tubby and ECM were doing contemporaneously?
“This wasn’t conceived as a photographic project. The function of the photos was simply to show people back in the UK what these people looked like. King Tubby turned out to be a very serious jazz fan, who didn’t seem to be particularly comfortable with the whole reggae
thing. To my bitter regret, I never photographed Tubby more than the three frames I took of him. That’s partly because he was a quite shy person, and it seemed to be inappropriate—he wasn’t comfortable with the idea that he was famous, even in a very limited genre. It didn’t even seem realistic, given the environment and the world that he lived in, which was basically a kind of home studio, or bedroom in his mom’s old bungalow, in the middle of the roughest part of Kingston. The whole idea of him being some sort of celebrity didn’t seem to make sense—it seemed ridiculous—so why would I want to photograph him again and again? It would make me look like an idiot, or that’s how I felt. So I always was very conscious of putting the camera away. I knew about photography, I knew how to use a camera, but I didn’t think that I was a photographer when I took those pictures. There’s a kind of purity of purpose. I never gave any thought to composition, they were just photographs of record.” – Dave Hendley, quoted in American Photo – referring to an immortal photo he took of King Tubby at work in 1977. I like the idea of King Tubby as a jazz fan. I wonder whether he listened to Bill Evans. I’m playing games again, but I imagine Tubby immersing himself in worn copies of the great Trio recordings, with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums, getting ideas about what to leave out and what to concentrate on, what to contemplate and when to improvise. I can see it. I can hear it. I’ve been thinking a lot
about Bill Evans recently, having read Intermission, Owen Martell’s beautifully sparse novel about the visionary pianist in the period immediately after Scott’s death. It is a peculiarly moving book, which benefits from not dwelling on the more lurid aspects of the jazz life. Somehow, curiously, it captures Bill’s style successfully. The introductory quote from Miles Davis gives a huge clue: “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there”. The Bill Evans I listen to most, oddly perhaps, is the one who made a pair of LPs with Tony Bennett in the mid-‘70s. They are extraordinary records. The first for Fantasy in 1975, and the second the following year on Tony’s own independent label Improv. I don’t think either one of the pair had any thoughts about pleasing a particular audience or sweetening the medicine. And I think it’s fair to say the pair were a little frayed when they made these recordings. What is captured for posterity, though, is a selection of songs from the Great American Songbook, from musicals and films, that are performed in an astonishingly naked way. There are no histrionics from Tony. Bill plays it straight as an accompanist, extemporising occasionally at the edges and the end of some songs. These are songs we are more familiar with in orchestral settings, but everything’s been stripped away, exposed. Lee Perry used the term x-ray music when talking about dub. It would apply to these LPs too. Lee Perry was very much behind the most important Blood and Fire release: The Congos’
Heart of the Congos, which was reissued in 1996. It was originally recorded in 1976/77 in Lee’s legendary Black Ark studio, and bears testament to his extraordinary vision. As with Captain Beefheart and Sun Ra, when so much attention is paid to supposed eccentricities and other-worldliness, it is tempting to resist the worship of Lee Perry, but this record and so many other Black Ark productions show how foolish that would be. Heart of the Congos was not a particularly obscure record to reissue. It had a UK release through The Beat’s Go-Feet label, and I remember seeing it in the window of a local record shop at the time. But Blood and Fire’s presentation of the record adds an incredible amount of prestige and significance to the entire experience, and it’s no coincidence that people like The Sea and Cake refer to it still in interviews as a touchstone. Of all the Blood and Fire releases this is the most sumptiously packaged. Perhaps more importantly it is presented in such a way that the packaging reflects the gravitas of the record.
Part of the enduring appeal of the Blood and Fire releases is the artwork and the visual identity of the label. In his book How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul Adrian Shaughnessy explains how the relationship worked between the label and the Intro design agency. Adrian adds as an aside that Mat Cook didn’t even like dub music, in the tradition of Reid Miles at Blue Note never listening to the label’s records.
Nevertheless Mat Cook’s artwork for Blood and Fire is extraordinarily beautiful. The Congos’ Cedric Myton has acknowledged this in an interview with David Katz: “There’s a lot of work that has gone into that, spiritual work. Things that I wasn’t even thinking of, Blood and Fire come right up, at the surface. Some artwork
that Blood and Fire dig up really untouchable.” The designs that Mat Cook and the Intro agency did for Blood and Fire are right up there with the best album artwork. At the time only Will Bankhead’s and Ben Drury’s work for Mo’Wax could even begin to match it. Interestingly among the Intro staff was Julian House who would go on to work closely with Stereolab, Broadcast and who continues to be behind the striking designs used by Ghost Box. Mat Cook’s artwork for the Heart of the Congos comes cased in a stiff cardboard book-like form. Inside there is a 36-page booklet, beautifully laid out. The one CD design that had struck me as powerfully was the packaging Alan Horne put together for The Heather on Fire, the 1993 collection of Orange Juice singles from the Postcard Records vaults. This had a 40-page colour booklet embedded within the card covers, with the actual CD slipping inside the front cover. Alan deliberately avoided using a digipak or jewel case, and succeeded in making a CD release aesthetically appealing. With the Heart of the Congos Blood and Fire/Intro went further, making the CD and the bonus disc part of the booklet in slipcases. This may well be a common design approach, but the only CDs I have which use the exact same format are some beautiful Greek EMI editions of classic Manos Hadjidakis works from the 1960s, including the exquisite Gioconda’s Smile, produced by Quincy Jones. These Greek editions actually have much stiffer covers, so may prove more durable.
cassettes of things like Subway Sect demos and Velvet Underground live recordings. Heart of the Congos, like all Blood and Fire releases, was mastered by Kevin Metcalfe, then working at The Townhouse and later at Soundmasters. His is a name that will be strangely familiar to anyone who has studied credits on a record, having cut masters for many ridiculously successful mainstream acts as well as very many reggae artists among whom he has a deservedly excellent reputation. I belive Kevin first became involved with reggae mastering in the late ‘70s while working at the De Lane Lea-CTS Studios in Wembley. He has since that time had, for example, a longstanding relationship with Greensleeves and OnU Sound. The booklet inside the Blood and Fire edition of Heart of the Congos features a series of collages/sculptures which capture the spirit of each song, and are placed opposite a short extract of lyrics. This is so much more effective than pages of text explaining away and overanalysing. At the rear of the booklet there is a short piece by Bob Harding explaining the process of restoring and mastering the sound. This is one of the more interesting technical aspects of the reissue process, and it has to be said that Blood and Fire deserve immense credit for the sound quality of its releases, in stark contrast to many other reggae reissue imprints. I say that as someone who really is not an audiophile, and who to be honest spent rather too long listening to atrocious sound quality
I think there are four essential reasons why Heart of the Congos sounds like such a spiritual record, one that contains music every bit as sacred as any performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. One is the extremely high calibre of musician taking part, including Ernest Ranglin on lead guitar, Boris Gardiner on bass, Sly Dunbar on drums, and Winston Wright on organ. The second is Lee Perry’s visionary production: if King Tubby was a technician, then Scratch is the archetypal intuitive creative force. It’s hard to pick out a specific reason why the sound of this record is so right, and that’s the point: it’s everything fusing together perfectly, just at the right time.
approach to production and building up the sound.
And then there’s The Congos, Cedric Myton and Roy ‘Ashanti’ Johnson, and their remarkable voices knitting together so delightfully, so movingly. The Jamaican vocal ensemble in the roots reggae era is one of the highest forms of art: the names of the groups are legendary, like The Wailing Souls, Abyssinians, Israel Vibration, Mighty Diamonds, Culture, Black Uhuru, and so on. But these outfits tended to be trios, the influence of the Impressions lingering on, understandably . The Congos, however, were more unusually a duo, with two unique voices gelling together so perfectly. Cedric’s voice on this record is as spellbinding as Little Anthony’s on any of the immortal recordings he made with the Imperials in the ‘60s. Roy’s voice provides a sweet contrast. But really it seems as if an entire heavenly choir is at work on the record, presumably partly thanks to the harmonies from The Meditations, and partly due to Lee Perry’s
But no matter how sweet the singing, how exemplary the playing, how unique the production, the song has got to be there to endure. The opening track, Fisherman, is right up there with Culture’s Two Sevens Clash as the great devotional song of the roots reggae era. And there are several celestial compositions that really have considerable clout and emotional punch. It’s funny, the Rasta rhetoric can grate. It can seem as if these guys were all singing the same song: one about Jah, herb and weed, Marcus Garvey, going back to Africa, and so on. And it’s ironic that when the reggae artists were singing about Ethiopia the country itself was in partnership with the Soviet Union resisting attempts by Eritrean freedom fighters determined to win independence for their country. But The Congos’ work transcends well-worked themes, and familiar language takes on new life and meaning. One appealing aspect of the songs on Heart of the Congos (and I STILL find myself slipping into a vision of Kurtz in the Congo in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when I type that title) is the vivid biblical imagery, which whisks me back to being a kid unwillingly at Sunday school where we were told so many stories from the Bible which I confess I loved, tales which these songs (psalms!) seem to evoke with mentions of the disciples Simon, Peter, James and John in Fisherman; Judas Iscariot; Nicodemus; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; Daniel in
the lion’s den; Joseph and his coat of many colours; the Ark of the Covenant; The Lion of Judah; The Feast of Passover; God’s children in the wilderness; Sodom and Gomorrah; and so on. When religious aspects are expressed so beautifully it almost makes you want to believe. One of the frustrations of seeking out old reggae vinyl is finding original pressings in such an appalling state that it makes you want to break down and cry in the charity shop or in the middle of the car park where the boot sale is being held. Blood and Fire therefore turned things completely on their head with their ‘quality’ approach. The timing was fortuitous too, with the increased availabilty and lower cost of the CD Walkman (Discman), allowing people to listen to compact discs on the move. Dub and roots reggae provided an ideal soundtrack for travel and movement, winning out against external noise in a way more obviously ambient sounds could not. This truly was functional music, and always had been: originally being produced for dances in the yard and for DJs to chat over. A resurgence of interest in dub in the 1990s coincided with a growing interest in old soundtracks and library music: sounds once made for a specific purpose, now used as a soundtrack for living. Or as the Fire Engines put it: Background Music for Action People!
“Intellectual pieties, like their religious counterparts, live long and die hard, acquiring while they endure the votive glow of received truth. This book gladly risks offending that among them which looks upon music of the daily ordinary as being beyond academic redemption. To put the matter briefly, the author takes American popular song and its creators seriously. Furthermore, he feels that the best work of the American song writers in the recent past provided an important, as well as delightful, contribution to our native arts.” – James T. Maher’s introduction to Alec Wilder’s American Popular Song, 1972 “Kent is one of the best-loved reissue labels, and during the ‘80s it transformed the ‘60s soul scene by switching the emphasis away from clubs and collectors to individuals and home entertainment. They achieved this by creating highly desirable product, beautifully packaged, with over 100 titles covering all soul directions, making so much great music widely available. Kent has been quiet of late, but releases still trickle through.” That was what I wrote about the Kent label as part of the reissues article for the Independent
Catalogue in 1993. Ironically, or rather thankfully, after that was published Kent really got to grips with the CD format, and gained a new lease of life as a result of the opportunities to include more tracks on a disc and more information in a booklet. There would continue to be many titles which catered for its core market of ‘60s/northern soul enthusiasts: among these were CDs that collected the great sounds released by labels like OKeh, Scepter/Wand, Chess/Cadet, and so on. Kent, like its parent company Ace, also benefited from a deal granting access to the Atlantic archives, which made it possible to produce a series of themed CDs in the late 1990s, pitching the frankly familiar (Aretha’s Save Me, for example) alongside the revelatory (anything by Judy Clay, say).
These 1960s label overview Kent soul CDs, overseen by Ady Croasdell, frequently feature
music that is art of the highest quality. The additional information available about composers, arrangers and producers has helped shed light on the people working behind the scenes, the ones consistently coming up with works, occasionally popular regionally, often overlooked by the world at large, that remain incredibly inventive and enchanting. Names recur across different compact discs providing clues about an alternative history of 20th century art: Charles Stepney, Carl Davis, Gerald Sims, Phil Wright, Johnny Pate, Richard Evans, and so on. But, ironically, the CD compilation that Kent released in the 1990s which I return to the most is neither ‘60s nor northern soul, but very much ‘70s and southern. “People have been dancing on a Saturday night for a long time. But there is a Sunday morning, when you have to listen to church music. That’s why they invented Saturday and Sunday.” - Robert Wyatt, quoted in an interview with David Toop for The Wire, October 2007 The compact disc collection Good Guys Don’t Always Win – Hotlanta Soul was released by Kent in 1998, and drew on the archives of a group of labels active in the Georgia region during the 1970s, like Aware, Moonsong, Clintone, GRC, and Hotlanta itself. Several of the tracks featured had never been previously available, and it’s unlikely any were hits even locally. The names of the artists are not now unfamiliar though: Loleatta Holloway, Frederick Knight, Bill Brandon, Rozetta Johnson, Sam Dees, Peggy Scott. And the quality of the material,
productions and performances is remarkable, and vividly varied. People may have very specific ideas about southern soul as a descriptive term. It can have very precious connotations, in more ways than one. It might suggest music that draws heavily on gospel roots. It may imply compositions aimed more at the heart than the feet. The great thing about this particular CD is that the tracks featured cover a variety of styles and resist easy categorisation. It’s part of the enduring appeal of the compilation. I think it’s fair to say this is very much adult-oriented pop music: the themes are predominantly about the ups-and-downs and emotional entanglements of human relationships. And in these particular recordings the artists put on one hell of a show, like the very greatest of actors wringing the emotion out of the words, utterly convincing the listener they are living through these domestic dramas. It’s entertainment, sure, but something to draw strength from, in certain situations. It’s not music to brood to. It’s not really music to move to. But it possesses real power, packs a real punch, and can tear you apart if you are feeling a little vulnerable. In recent years some singers have been spectacularly successful in commercial terms, ululating, howling and wailing, pretty much covering just about every known musical note in the spectrum, approximating some received idea about soul music. But trying to remember
any one of the songs they sing is a challenge. The sheer class of the compositions on the Hotlanta Soul CD shines through, though. Over a third of the tracks featured have some kind of involvement with Sam Dees, who in the few years before this CD came out had become a figure of immense importance to fans of soul music via a CD Kent put out of his unreleased recordings. A second volume followed in 1998. Oddly I initially resisted these vigorously, even though I was aware people I trusted were raving about them. It was partly to do with a fear of ossification: I wanted to keep moving and keep up with new releases, the Photeks and No UTurns etc. It was partly being contrary, reacting against the prim preciousness of the soul community. But maybe, just maybe, subconsciously, it was a fear of disappearing into a particular vortex, something to do with the awareness that there were 45 quality recordings which had never been released, as in: “Please don’t confront me with my failures. I have not forgotten them”. “The CD that you hold before you is something of a minor miracle. During Sam Dees’ triumphant first visit to these shores in 1989, I chatted to him on the subject of his many unissued Atlantic/Moonsong titles, and the chances of them ever becoming available on disc. He shrugged his shoulders, with more than a hint of annoyance, and admitted that, through some ongoing legal wrangle, he didn’t even own the rights to his own songs from that
era.” – Jan Barker, from the sleeve notes to Sam Dees’ Second To None, on Kent Records. Sam Dees shrugging his shoulders: it’s the saddest, most evocative thing. It haunts me. I can picture him doing it, hardly daring to say what he is thinking. What would we have felt? We all have things we feel a sense of injustice about, we perceive slights. But imagine writing and recording songs as wonderful as the ones on these two CDs and having to sit back and watch lesser talents rake the money in and be critically acclaimed. It must eat away at you. Sam did release a dozen-or-so singles in the 1970s and one LP. That’s a lot more than some. But the quality of the unreleased recordings across those two CDs is astonishing and it’s a good thing Kent did, putting out the Sam Dees collections, and it is only right and proper that they caught the imagination of many in the latter half of the 1990s.
“Nobody could quite believe the intensity and depth of Sam’s talent. One minute the angry
young prophet, the next a heart-broken spurned lover – Dees’ genius simply engulfed a session.” - Jan Barker, from the sleeve notes to Sam Dees’ Second To None, on Kent Records. The unreleased recordings are, I guess, demos, but that seems far too shabby a word to describe the majestic tracks on these two CDs. I suppose they are demonstrations, as in illustrations for other artists or record company personnel, to show what the song potentially is, how it could be performed. I suppose they are demonstrative, as in performed with passion and poise. They are demos then, in their way on a par with the greatest releases on Philadelphia International or Stax. They are unfinished, certainly, but that is part of the appeal in a weird way. For, as demos, they may be unvarnished but they are incredibly intricate. As with the astonishing Reggie King (post-Action) demos which are finally being released in 2013, 45-odd years after they were recorded, it is discombobulating to consider the artistry of these supposed sketches, casually cast aside by someone. I do hate the idea of great LPs being reissued endlessly with reams of outtakes and alternative versions bolted on. How many versions of the classic Beach Boys, Velvets or Miles Davis recordings does the listener need? There are so many aspects of record company recycling activity that make me mad: the bloated box set, the additional DVD about the making of the record, and so on. So, generally, I am pretty wary about long-lost ‘demos’ emerging. But in
the case of these Sam Dees and Reggie King recordings there is far more of a sense of anger and despair at the way such wonderful recordings could be hidden away by the music industry for so long. I suspect, again, part of the appeal of these Sam Dees CDs is the ‘great unknown’ angle. We have affection for the underdog, the overlooked. It’s fascinating how there are some who “make it” and how there are those who never will. The stories about the ones who get lost are compelling. It’s what underpins the film ‘Tis Autumn about the search for the jazz singer Jackie Paris. But it’s worth reminding ourselves how in that film Billy Vera warns the viewer about the difficulties of being a singer’s singer, being a legend and not making any money, and the struggle to stay nice. And I suppose one of the ironies of the Sam Dees story is that he has received a lot of love from a soul community that was dancing to old 45s when he was composing cutting-edge, exquisitely-crafted songs which he hoped to sell to the more commercially successful singers. Sam was for a while signed to the Atlantic label, and in 1975 released an astonishing LP The Show Must Go On. Nearly forty years on, it has finally surfaced on CD, via Real Gone Music. A few of the songs sketched out on the first of the Sam Dees/Kent LPs are included: Come Back Strong, Good Guys Don’t Always Win, and Worn Out Broken Heart. Even in 2013 it seems incredible that the impossibly belated CD reissue is not headline news.
The tracks Child of the Street and Troubled Child demonstrate the more socially-conscious/social realism themes Sam Dees occasionally tackled, where in the tradition of Curtis Mayfield and the O’Jays the sweetness of the music contrasts bitterly with the lyrical contents. The second of the Sam Dees/Kent LPs opens with a couple of these more political compositions, including the title track The Heritage of a Black Man. And the 2000 Kent compilation of Atlantic archive material Sanctified Soul features the chillingly vivid Sam Dees b-side Signed, Miss Heroin which re-appears as a bonus track on the recent reissue of Sam’s superb The Show Must Go On. Another great Kent CD release of the 1990s which featured several Sam Dees compositions, was The Hotlanta Soul of Loleatta Holloway from 1996. This drew on the material Loleatta made for the Aware label in the early-to-mid ‘70s, with a number of additional previously unreleased recordings. This was all well before Loleatta signed to the Salsoul organisation and a long time before the house music explosion gave her a new lease of life. Brilliantly the John Ridley sleeve notes for the Kent CD pointedly opt not to mention Black Box’s Ride On Time and the unauthorised use of Loleatta’s vocals which were a lot to do with the track getting to the top of the singles chart in 1989. As the leading authority on southern soul, John annotated Kent’s Hotlanta-related releases, and has more recently adopted the persona of Sir Shambling to run a site which is a ridiculously valuable resource for anyone interested in the
sound of and stories behind southern soul. It was one of the original inspirations for YHO, and it should be said the site’s outlook goes way beyond the strict parameters of southern soul. There are, for example, fantastic features on soul music from Surinam, the deep soul of the Caribbean, blue-eyed soul, backing singers, gospel music, all illustrated with soundclips that drag you in to the whirlpool of emotional balladry.
The Kent/Loleatta Holloway collection opens with Sam Dees/David Camon number Cry To Me, which is just incredible. Sam demoed it, but Loleatta lives it. The beautiful melody lingers, but Loleatta’s performance is more than memorable. You really do believe she would be there for you if things got bad, even though you walked out on her. Oh she’s a fool but she loves you, you big dummy, so if you need someone, dial her number, knock on her door, write her a letter, and cry to her, no matter how bad things get. Yeah, she’ll have been missing you, you’d
been together for so long, and you know what? Whoever you are, you are a lucky guy, and you don’t deserve her. I just hope she’s better off without you. The original flip was another Sam Dees domestic drama, So Can I, where Loleatta leaps into fullon gospel rave-up mode which is quite frighteningly intense and convincing: acting doesn’t come any more compelling. Another of Sam’s songs is the more explicitly gospel rooted, H.E.L.P.M.E.M.Y.L.O.R.D., which has a really fierce Staples Singers feel in this version. My personal favourite is the speedy stomper and spectacularly secular Mother of Shame, which again Sam had a hand in writing, and which bizarrely doesn’t sound that far away from Reparata’s Shoes albeit as rewritten by Nell Dunn. There were further volumes in the Hotlanta Soul series, and this became one of Kent’s strengths: being able to sustain themes over a sequence of titles with satellite releases to illustrate specific points. The Hotlanta Soul Volume 2 title, Full Time Groovers, from 2000, was if anything even better than its predecessor. It seemed smoother, subtler, more sophisticated. Again Sam Dees played a part in writing a good third of the titles. It opens with a knockout one-two-three from Sam Dees, including the gorgeous Someone To Run To by the wonderfully named Alpaca Phase III. Particular highlights of this edition are the two tracks by the magnificently majestic and effortlessly elegant Frederick Knight, especially
Time which was composed by the team of Knight and Dees.
A third volume of Hotlanta Soul was put together in 2005, maintaining the exceptionally high standards of the previous titles, and maybe coming across in a grrrittier, rawer, rougher way. Over half of the titles are Sam Dees compositions, and his wife Lillian contributes a couple more. The underlying themes again are those of searingly soulful soap operas. Roszetta Johnson proves herself to be the great interpreter of the Dees’ sides. Her hurt, vengeful performance on the title track, Holding The Losing Hand, is remarkable, and one of the most spellbinding portrayals of betrayal ever committed to tape. Her rendition of Sam’s song Personal Woman is electrifying, and the production hurtles along without losing any of
the intensity of a southern soul ballad. It’s a real shame that Roszetta didn’t get the opportunity to record an entire LP of Sam’s songs, in the tradition of Swamp Dogg and his extraordinary southern soul ladies Doris Duke and Sandra Phillips. Like the Dogg, Sam Dees had an enviable ability to write a script or craft a song for a female singer to perform in an implausibly persuasive way. There is a little crossover between the Hotlanta Soul series and what are surely the most successful and celebrated Kent releases, Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures. Volume Three of the Deep Soul series from 2000 features Ro(s)zetta Johnson’s incredible version of Sam Dees’ Who Are You Gonna Love (Your Woman or Your Wife). That same volume was dedicated to “the memory of, and for the enriching contributions in Soul music made by” Roger Eagle, among others. On another occasion Dave paid tribute to Roger in a column for Soulful Kinda Music: “The (Twisted) Wheel’s staunchest DJ, the late Roger Eagle, not only had immaculate good taste in music, but consistently played his hunches even if the first spins of a side appeared to elicit little response from the floor. How we need more DJs of his calibre instead of those whose only affection for the music was the degree to which it could be used to bolster their own insecure egos!” Over four volumes, each with 25 tracks, released between 1997 and 2004, Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures was a remarkable success story for Kent. It caught the imagination of people
who might not ordinarily be attracted to compilations of generally obscure and uncompromising old soul music. This had a lot to do with the inspirational music, sure, but also the smart packaging and presentation by Kent, the meticulous research and attention to detail with licensing and the tracking down of original tapes and the granting of permissions etc. by Ady Croasdell and the team, the persistence with Phil Smee’s original design concept, the quality of the mastering by Duncan Cowell and colleagues at Sound Mastering. But above all it had to do with a sense of romance, the personal vision, the commitment, the passion, and the erudition of Dave Godin himself. "Deep Soul is unique in as much as it is the only musical genre that reflects deep and profound emotions, and a seriousness of purpose that rejects all trivialities and superficialities. One could perhaps say almost say Deep Soul is antipop, rejecting and contradicting all that the corporate music industry sets out to supply. This in turn gives us a clue as to why it has never enjoyed, or, as some might reckon, been allowed to enjoy, widespread acceptance, and finds its strongest appeal mainly amongst the kind of people that those who just can't get their heads around Deep Soul would brand as neurotics, misfits and unstable. Or even deranged. It is certainly the music of the outsider." – Dave Godin, Deep Soul Treasures Volume 1 'I have this belief that given enough time, truly worthwhile cultural artefacts, even if they were
totally overlooked or ignored when first created and launched, will eventually come to be recognised as valuable contributions to human understanding and enrichment.' – Dave Godin, Deep Soul Treasures Volume 2 “Also, context is everything”. Deep Soul Treasures Volume 3
– Dave Godin,
“If there is one element shared in all music which I classify as Deep Soul, it is a latent and subliminal element of threat”. – Dave Godin, Deep Soul Treasures Volume 4
If the series of Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures reached a wider audience than Kent might have ordinarily sold to, then the same can be said of the x% Dynamite series of reggae
compilations Soul Jazz put out at the end of the 1990s, together with the subsequent stream of Studio One sets they released. Somehow these reached a different market, and somehow people were dancing to, listening to, and buying old reggae music, when they might usually steer well clear. In the liner notes for the excellent 2001 title Darker Than Blue: Soul from Jamdown 1973-1980 Steve Barrow and the Blood and Fire collective have acknowledged that the Soul Jazz approach “indirectly gave us the inspiration to make this long-cherished project a reality”. It even looks more like a Soul Jazz release than a Blood and Fire one. Soul Jazz has never simply been a salvage operation. There have always been new recordings released as part of the label’s output, and there has been some great stuff too: Chris Bowden, Jessica Lauren, Bell, Hu Vibrational, AmmonContact, ESG, Soul 223 (Steve Pickton!), the great Digital Mystikz, and so on. But it is for their delving into the past that Soul Jazz has become a part of our life. For in its outlook, its methodology, its mixed-up passions, we are Soul Jazz and Soul Jazz is us. Soul Jazz is U.S. (Universal Sound) and Sounds of the Universe, and we love the world of music. Somehow Soul Jazz has succeeded in transcending specialist interests. They are pluralists, perhaps, and certainly interested in many areas, sometimes examining things indepth, sometimes simply passing by. And yet they seem neither to insult the authorities in specific fields nor alienate the layman, the
dabbler, the dilettante. They can be occasionally populist and they may be downright abstruse. They remain subversive in the sense that the strength of the brand alone may lead its customers into esoteric areas. The label’s leading light Stuart Baker is something of an enigma. He doesn’t exactly hide away from public gaze, but then again he avoids being plastered all over the broadsheets and featuring as a talking head in endless documentaries. We tend not to know too much about him, his background and his views. Still his labels and shop seem to thrive. As scare stories proclaim the end of various physical formats, Soul Jazz certainly seems more active and indulgent than ever. And while the label has one of the most readily identifiable identities in the music business Soul Jazz seems not to advertise or market itself vigorously. There will usually be one advert on the back of The Wire giving details of a new release, but beyond that there seems to be very little money wasted singing its own praises.
Right at the start Soul Jazz became active in the recycling game, putting out a series of London Jazz Classics compilations, the first of which came out in 1993. I missed these at the time, but looking at the track listings now the selections are strikingly heavyweight. The timing is intriguing too: the musical content and context suggests the London jazz dance scene, which by 1993 was pretty much done and dusted. But perhaps that was the point? These tracks were possibly about particular times and places, pubs and clubs, DJs and dance floors, record shops and playlists, cold flats and heated arguments: a hopelessly obscure soundtrack to Geoff Dyer’s The Colour of Memory every bit as much as it illustrates Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove’s history of the UK jazz dance scene.
Even now these tracks could hardly be described as familiar. Across the three volumes there’s plenty of Latin and fusion sounds, which sound fantastic. The Brazilian artists are perhaps the most familiar today: Airto, Antonio Adolfo,
Azymuth, Papete, and Sivuca. That certainly wasn’t always the case, though one of the tracks, Sivuca’s cover of Ain’t No Sunshine, was a minor hit in the UK during the summer of 1984, reflecting the enduring power of the underground and the way a pretty old recording could become a club favourite and get propelled in the direction of the singles chart. The summer of 1984: that was the time of Working Week’s Venceremos (We Will Win), “dedicated to Camden Town’s Electric Ballroom’s Jazz Dancers”. Venceremos came out on the Paladin label which was run by Paul Murphy, a truly legendary figure on the London jazz dance scene, who as a DJ hosted or played at a number of nights that have passed into club culture folklore: the Electric Ballroom, Monday nights at The Wag, and the Sol y Sombra. The Sol y Sombra was a Colombian restaurant on Charlotte Street in London’s West End, where Dave Hucker started out DJing a couple of nights a week from 1982 onwards, playing ‘tropical sounds’ like salsa and Latin jazz, but also reggae, soca and African music. Paul Murphy took over Friday nights there, as immortalised in Working Week’s Who Fooling Who?: “She knows all about Murphy's law on a Monday night. Charlotte Street's always jumping when Friday comes." Or as the chorus says: “Hold steady on a soul jazz groove”. Paul and Dean Hulme at Paladin also put out the aptly titled Mix Up LP by Annie Whitehead, a fantastic snapshot of reggae, jazz, Latin and African
influences percolating away madly alongside a non-specific left political outlook, in a way that still seems excitingly natural. I have no idea how involved Stuart Baker was with this jazz dance scene. I’m not even sure where he’s from. I know Soul Jazz started out as a shop in Camden Market, and I first became aware of it (was it Sounds of the Universe then?) when it moved to the small premises in Ingestre Place in Soho. The title that really made me sit up and take notice of the label was the Nu Yorica! compilation, which was subtitled rather endearingly: Culture Clash in New York City: Experiments in Latin Music 1970-77. It was a two CD set and felt important. This was 1996 and I guess it got plenty of support from Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge on the radio, Charlie Gillett and Gerry Lyseight perhaps on GLR (Greater London Radio) too, and in the pages of Paul Bradshaw’s much-missed Straight No Chaser no doubt I’m genuinely guessing, though.
It was a double CD that came enclosed in a slipcase, and there was a sumptuous full-colour, 40-page booklet that was separate to the CD. This seemed really bold at the time, but I suppose we are used to the format now with Soul Jazz releases. Blood and Fire did something similar the following year with the two-CD Yabby You Jesus Dread 1972-1977 set. And only recently I found in a charity shop a copy of the Officium CD by Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble, which originally came out as part of the ECM New Series in 1994. Apart from being breathtakingly beautiful these new interpretations of ancient songs came in a jewel case plus a standalone 40-page booklet and slipcase. I believe, however, the inspiration for the packaging for Nu Yorica! came from a CD Stuart saw about Landor Records, the Louisiana label: “It had a slipcase and I thought it was one of the most attractive things I¹d seen. The sleeve was in brown card. I don¹t think I had a CD player at that time so I couldn¹t even play it.” That presumably explains the credit for design being for Adrian Self and Richie ‘Spuds’ Lanor. I value consistency in record companies’ approach. I very much like the fact that so many Soul Jazz titles feature artwork by Adrian Self, co-ordination and research by Angela Scott, and liner notes by Stuart Baker himself. The cover image for Nu Yorica! is a New York City street scene, almost complementary to the London one on the cover of the second London Jazz Classics volume. In some ways the Nu Yorica! set itself is like a particular feature of that
London Jazz Classics compilation has been homed in on and magnified marvellously. Like Kent Records, Soul Jazz have been very good at taking a particular aspect of one compilation and drilling down deeper.
The second set in the London Jazz Classics series features wonderful tracks by Bobby Vince Paunetto and Ricardo Marrero, and these artists reappear on Nu Yorica! The way the Nu Yorica! compilation is pitched is that salsa as a term would not even begin to describe the cauldron of Latin sounds on these two CDs. The approach is from the left with the emphasis on the mixture of influences bubbling away in New York among those interested in and playing Latin music, where traditional Cuban or Puerto Rican styles would be fused with of-the-minute jazz, funk, fusion and soul sounds, and the politics of the day could have some say or sway. It certainly wasn’t just people of Latin heritage making this music.
Soul Jazz cannily focuses on the word ‘experiments’ and can certainly not be accused of choosing obvious dancefloor fillers, although some of the names may well be familiar, such as Joe Bataan, Eddie Palmieri, and Machito. As a whole this two CD set has fascinated me endlessly just by covering so much ground. In the period it covers the Latin label Fania was big news. Artists such as Janis Ian have acknowledged how Latin sounds at that time were all over the New York neighbourhoods where she had grown up, and in the UK the press were speculating whether Latin music would be the next big thing. It never happened but War had a couple of big hits in 1976 with Low Rider and Me and Baby Brother, which I think planted the seeds subconsciously for many people who grew to love Latin music. Where else did the love of Latin sounds come from? My interest was piqued by the Charly subsidiary Caliente which released a series of great titles in the late ‘80s, with compilations (including in particular the attention-grabbing We Got Latin Soul set) put together by the likes of Dave Hucker and Baz Fe Jazz. There was also the BGP (Beat Goes Public) label, part of the Ace family, which Baz Fe Jazz and Gilles Peterson were involved with initially, which early on put out valuable titles by the likes of Mongo Santamaria, Cal Tjader, and Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers. Allied to the jazz dance community was the pioneering work of DJs and writers like Sue Steward, John Armstrong, Rita
Ray, and Max Reinhardt who were promoting music and rhythms from around the world. But I think more to the point an interest in Latin sounds was stimulated at the start of the ‘80s by A Certain Ratio’s Sextet, by Simon Booth’s work with Weekend and then Working Week, and perhaps the former Pop Group aggregates of Pigbag, Maximum Joy and Rip Rig & Panic. There was Kid Creole & the Coconuts too, and ESG, and the Gibson Brothers. But it’s ACR’s Sextet that is the most significant there: the way the group incorporated Latin percussion, Brazilian rhythms, the latest US funk sounds into their music was startling. And it’s no coincidence that the aspect of the post-punk revolution Soul Jazz would focus on the most was the early work of A Certain Ratio and the music made by ESG and Konk. I really think just about everything at Soul Jazz starts with Sextet. A second volume of Nu Yorica! followed in 1997. This was a single CD edition, subtitled “Further Adventures in Latin Music: Chango in the New World 1976-1985”. On the reverse of the slipcase the strapline was “Santeros, Marielitos & Nuevoyorquinos: Latin Music in New York City 1976-1985”. Stuart’s liner notes mention the afrocuban religion of Santeria, which was a subject of a later Soul Jazz compilation. Interestingly, while we may, to an extent, take Soul Jazz for granted, one thing the label has consistently explored is traditional religious music, releasing compilations of sacred and spiritual sounds from Latin America and the Caribbean, and delving into curiously esoteric areas.
The track from Nu Yorica 2! that still knocks me out each time I hear it is Jingo by Candido. It is in itself a perfect cross-cultural phenomenon: a Cuban-born percussionist known as The Thousand Finger Man, who’d played with Dizzy Gillespie, records a song, written by the Nigerian drummer Olatunji, for the Salsoul label, aimed specifically at the disco market in 1979 and which becomes a minor hit in the UK on the Excalibur label in the incendiary summer of 1981. What a combination! The maestro’s percussion on the record is incredible, almost a proto-house build, and there’s mad Arp Odyssey synth work from Louis Small to add to the fun. And the LP the track is from was partly recorded at Blank Studios with Bob Blank at the controls. It all fits so perfectly. The pitch from Soul Jazz for Nu Yorica 2! was that by “1976 Latin music in New York City was at a number of crossroads. Salsa was starting to lose its momentum as a musical force and attention was starting to focus on other musical centres, such as Puerto Rico, for inspiration. This left musicians in New York free to explore and develop new forms of Latin music.” Some of the artists featured are major players, like Mongo Santamaria, Eddie Palmieri and the Fania All Stars, but one gets the impression Stuart Baker will have had fun picking out the more curious and challenging recordings for this set, which is a great way of going about things. One of the featured tracks Louie Ramirez’s Barrio Nuevo almost provided the title for another Soul Jazz compilation in 1999.
When another London institution, the Honest Jons record shop in Ladbroke Grove, started a label belatedly in 2002 (with financial support from Damon AllBran: isn’t it curious how Damon with Honest Jons and Mick Hucknall with Blood and Fire did a good thing though they are widely and rightly reviled for their musical activities, and yet the so-called forces for good have put what back in?) among the output would be a couple of brilliant New York/Latin titles that seem to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the Nu Yorica! sets. These both had beautifully designed packaging by Will Bankhead (formerly of the Mo’Wax parish) featuring gorgeous Bruce Davidson/Magnum photos. The first of these essential sets was Son Cubano NYC: Cuban Roots New York Spices 1972-82 which was followed by Boogaloo Pow Wow: Dancefloor Rendez-Vous in Young Nuyorica.
“And now they're using that photo to sell back to us some of the music from those days. It's funny. We just took that stuff for granted. It was all around. A mad mix of rhythm and blues, what we heard on the radio, and the sounds that sort of defined where we were from. The neighbourhood. The Puerto Rican roots, the Cuban rhythms. Mainly the noise. All that clapping and chanting, the sirens and horns. Joyous stuff but a real din. “Boogaloo? Did we call it that? It was background noise. The soundtrack of my youth. I didn't hang on to any of the records. I don't think I could dance to them now in quite the same way. What is it? 40 years on almost! My granddaughter, she thinks it's hilarious. I don't think she'd thought of me being young. Ah life.” - John Carney, from Shivers Inside, Part One “Much as I love jazz I have never yet let it swallow me whole. I, however, envy those that give themselves up to it completely at the expense of all else. It’s a nice position to be in. So I am going to have to confess to being a bit of an enthusiastic dabbler. I’ll never be an authority on jazz. It’s not something that bothers me unduly. After all, the jazz scholar is hardly in a position to take the moral high ground if they don’t know their Blue Orchids or Sorrows or Pale Fountains. But yeah I love a lot of jazz records.” John Carney, Fifty Thousand Reasons, Part 36 If the Nu Yorica! set as a total package hit like a haymaker then it was rather different for the first Soul Jazz CD I ever bought. This was the
Universal Sounds of America compilation from 1995, of what I suppose now would be called spiritual jazz. And it is what might be best described as a sleeper, a collection that initially met with approval but which has gradually grown in stature and importance with the passing of time. Now I don’t think I could do without it, and I would argue it’s the best jazz compilation ever. And part of its beauty is the way it really feels like a cassette compilation carefully put together for a loved one to illustrate a particular thing close to someone’s heart which they yearn to share. Maybe it was! Beyond the quality of the music there are some significant things about this Universal Sounds of America compilation, things which have excited and inspired me, and which have challenged pre-existing ideas. One central challenge, for example, was the date of some of the tracks, which at the time went against my belief that somehow jazz was finished as an exploratory art by the early ‘70s. I really thought that was the case, but now realise that such notions were complete twaddle. But initially I was genuinely surprised that the Steve Reid-related tracks were from the late ‘70s. Mind you, back then, in the 1990s I think I might have struggled to believe the superb music Steve Reid would go on to make with Kieran Hebden once of Fridge for the very unglamorous Domino organisation. Another striking thing about the Universal Sounds CD was the sense of independence; the majority of tracks were ones originally released on small independent labels, run by black jazz
musicians or local collectives: self-reliance, selfdetermination etc. Yes, the politics is important, but it’s not necessarily the case that music on independent labels is better than that on the major labels. With this CD it’s more to do with the way people still write about independent record labels starting with New Hormones and the Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch, which is just so absurd and insulting. In the UK alone there is a long history of people putting out their own records: jazz, reggae, folk, religious music, and so on and so on. “The music is beautiful on this album. And the idea of its distribution – do it yourself, brother. Not brother can you spare a 10 percent. Do it yourself, in nations, cultures, products of the mind and soul. Visions. Your own, yourself and the other kindred selves. The music is beautiful on this album. “You know that we do not have one theatre of our own ... where are the jazz record companies? ... Motown should show you what you can do if you got a gut product. The music is beautiful. “Sun-Ra has been doing this for years. His self. Saturn hovers above all of us. Sun-Ra, who is the modern master. The orchestrator.” – LeRoi Jones, writing about Don Pullen-Milford Graves Live At Yale University, 1966, as featured in Black Music
And then there was the fact that this music was so beautiful, often incredibly melodic, certainly accessible and very definitely danceable. Again that seemed a little against the grain, against expectations. Where on the Nu Yorica! sets Stuart Baker had picked tracks to defy the idea of Latin sounds as purely party music, so the Universal Sounds CD presents underground jazz as something other than wild honks and abstract squawks. To prove a point, the headline track from this set is Thème De Yoyo by arch-experimentalists the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and it’s one of those songs that you never forget the first time you heard it or the last time you danced to it. There’s so much going on: the extraordinary bass, the venom in the vocals, the ricochets of drums echoing, the gloriously soulful brass section, firmly reined in, which every now and then goes wild rather spectacularly. And I think it just seemed so wonderfully right that someone in France in 1970 decided it would be a great idea to get the Art Ensemble of Chicago in to do the soundtrack for a new film, Les Stances A Sophie. This song was such a delightful discovery, almost matched by hearing Comme à la Radio, this time the Art Ensemble of Chicago with Brigitte Fontaine and Areski Belkace recording for Pierre Barouh’s Saravah label in 1969. Another exhilarating thing about Thème De Yoyo was the realisation that the vituperative verses were delivered by Fontella Bass. Somehow making the connection between this
great soul singer, whose Chess recording of Rescue Me is an eternal mod touchstone (and let’s not forget it was a massive UK hit at the end of 1965), and the Art Ensemble of Chicago via her husband Lester Bowie seemed so perfect. And any mention of Fontella must include her astonishing recordings for the Shreveport, Louisiana-based Paula label in the early ‘70s after her time in revolutionary exile with the Art Ensemble. These Paula recordings were collected on Free, a great CD put out by Westside (a Demon subsidiary) in 2000 which was annotated by Mick Patrick and Malcolm Baumgart (more leading figures of the enlightenment). The Fontella Bass/Paula recordings were wonderfully deep soul music, often fierce and at times movingly political, as on the title track and on producer Oliver Sain’s Who You Gonna Blame, as well as her brotherin-law Byron Bowie’s Talking About Freedom. The other really significant track on the Universal Sounds of America compilation was Pharoah Sanders’ Astral Travelling, taken from his 1971 Impulse! LP Thembi. It is such an incredibly beautiful piece of music, and a great example of exquisite ensemble playing. Its impact, whether as a direct consequence of its inclusion on this CD or in some other way, was considerable: its influence could be felt in the music of Photek, 4hero and other drum ‘n’ bass productions, in the work of electronic artists like Kirk Degiorgio and Carl Craig, in the work of the Chicago underground artists like Tortoise and
The Sea and Cake, in the releases of labels like Cup of Tea, and so on. The composition itself was by Lonnie Liston Smith, and he would revisit it as the title track of his own debut LP in 1973 for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman label. Lonnie’s is a name so irredeemably attached to the idea of dancing to jazz music in the UK, primarily because of his 1975 track Expansions: “Some feel that this is ‘where it all began’ ... certainly things were never the same,” wrote Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove in his history of the UK jazz dance scene. And although Lonnie’s version was not a hit Expansions remains one of those songs people seem to know by osmosis and respond to involuntarily, instinctively. It would be a few more years (after the Universal Sounds of America compilation) before I heard the full Thembi LP which Astral Travelling opened, when it appeared in 1998 as part of the incredibly important Impulse! reissue series that began in 1995, in those beautifully desirable digipak editions. This remains my particular favourite Pharoah Sanders set of the several he made for Impulse! I love the combination of Pharoah, with Lonnie’s keyboards (this was, I believe, the first time he’d used the Fender Rhodes), Cecil McBee’s bass playing (and working with Lonnie again his bass playing is pivotal to the success of Expansions as a dancefloor track), and all the percussion. The LP unusually is produced by Impulse! inhouse man Ed Michel with Bill Szymczyk of
neighbouring ABC records, and this could have a lot to do with its success. I think Szymczyk perhaps encouraged Pharoah to experiment with shorter, more focused tracks. I like Szymczyk, particularly the stories about another record he and Michel made for Impulse! with session guitarist Howard Roberts, the madly experimental Antelope Freeway, and how Bill went off to the middle-of-nowhere to set up the Tumbleweed label before producing the Eagles. The best description of Pharoah Sanders’ music I’ve come across is in a novel, John Murray’s Jazz etc. where his Tauhid LP features as part of the tale, and the author perfectly captures the balance in the music. On one hand there is the “dense and polyphonal braying of an angry maddened turkey, which abruptly decides to howl like a hyena”. And on the other there’s Pharoah “serenading us with the message that out of musical breakdown and an anguished wordless dissolution comes perhaps some tenderness, some mercy, some transfixity, of what shall we call it? Shall we call it love?” Soul Jazz would revisit the territory of Universal Sounds of America often over the ensuing years, excavating in ever finer detail and sharing the results. Around the time the US of A CD first came out, Soul Jazz/Universal Sound put together a mini-series of compilations importantly illuminating the output of black independent labels Strata-East, Black Jazz and Tribe. There would also later be full-length reissues from which tracks on Universal Sounds were plucked: Steve Reid’s Nova, Byron Morris
and Unity’s Blow Thru Your Mind, and Marcus Belgrave’s Gemini. The complete soundtrack for Les Stances A Sophie would be released in 2000, followed by a DVD of the film itself in 2008. Even a cursory glance at the collected output of these black jazz labels and their artists highlights how much there is still to be heard, learned, and salvaged officially. I suspect the same is true of a look through the pages of the Soul Jazz book, Freedom, Rhythm and Sound, where Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker collected together a selection of original cover art from revolutionary jazz LPs. This is one of a series of coffee-table art books Soul Jazz have published featuring wonderfully rare record sleeves. The other titles include Bossa Nova and the Rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960s, again edited by Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker, and Reggae 45 Soundsystem: The Label Art of Reggae Singles, A Visual History of Jamaican Reggae 1959-79 featuring text by Steve Barrow and an LP equivalent featuring selections from his own vast collection.
“People are buying back catalogue Bowie, so why not release the more interesting things? All these sounds were never particularly successful, but they have influenced so many people. Now everyone can trace the connections.” – Paul Taylor, The Grey Area, Mute Records, 1993 Attention to detail is important, maybe as crucial as context, when it comes to reissues. It’s easy enough to put out some old music on a CD, but it’s something of an art form to release lost sounds in a way that adds to the magic and mystery. It’s what makes one feel so uneasy about the way Cherry Red operates, or Castle used to, for example, churning out old titles as if they are on a conveyor belt. That way of working doesn’t feel special. No release feels like a significant event, no matter how great the music may be. Some salvage imprints have a distinct advantage. When Adrian Sherwood’s On-U
Sound organisation set up a reggae retrieval label it was always going to be a bit special. The first release on its Pressure Sounds imprint in 1995 was a compilation of Leonard Chin productions for the Santic label, and some superb titles swiftly followed from Israel Vibration, Keith Hudson, Prince Far I, Little Roy and Lee Perry. Pressure Sounds started off as a subsidiary of On-U Sound but drifted off to become a stand-alone label, which still functions today. It’s run by Pete Holdsworth, who was there at the start of On-U Sound, as a member of London Underground, lost figures now but some of their recordings were very, very appealing in a PiL way. Pete also emerges as one of the good guys in Jah Wobble’s autobiography. One early Pressure Sounds title was the Lee Perry collection Voodooism. There have been so many Lee Perry related collections, but this one is quite singular. It has what is called a great ‘back story’, which Roger Eagle tells very well in the liner notes. Essentially, Roger was invited to take part in a special edition of Steve Barker’s On The Wire radio show for BBC Lancashire in 1984 where the legendary Lee Perry would be the special guest. Roger, being a Perry fanatic, took along a stack of Perry-produced 7”s, essentially incredibly rare Jamaican imports he’d picked up when they were first released, and passed them to Lee one-by-one for inspection and hopefully for some illuminating comments: “He raised his ancient spectacles high on his forehead staring at each one in turn with a frown of concentration. Pausing as he
read the details of every label, he brought out a biro from his bag of many things and solemnly ticked them one by one – good play Scratch!” The Voodooism compilation itself draws on the Lee Perry Black Ark productions, some of which apparently are those ticked rarities, from the mid-‘70s, and it’s a great collection, worth buying just for the Zap Pow track River and its dub. These two songs are truly astonishing recordings, but that is almost irrelevant because what really matters is the context, the setting provided by Roger’s story. There is some incredible music on Voodooism though, which justifies all the nonsense one has to plough through to do with the Perry mythology. As with Beefheart and Sun Ra, the holy goof persona can distract from the very reason why these people are considered to be so special: those Zap Pow cuts, River and its dub, on this CD are reason enough to venerate Lee, as there seem to so many ideas at work on those tracks, and for example the subtlety of the drumming and psychedelic-style phasing is delightful. And how many reasons do we need to love Lee? The booklet accompanying Voodooism refers to issue 2 of the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal magazine which featured “a near definitive view of Scratch”. This edition (what was it? 1995?) was Bob Mack’s glorious gesture of extravagance as editor and he put together a 24-page section on the genius of Lee Perry which shot off in all sorts of directions, one which was irreverent and intoxicating. I suspect that edition of Grand Royal probably goes for silly
money now, like the original Lee Perry 7”s. But it was important at the time, so incredibly persuasive, and I suspect it opened the door onto Lee Perry’s work for lots of people. Pressure Sounds in its early releases also opened the door on Adrian Sherwood’s own past, reissuing Prince Far I titles which he had been involved with releasing (on the Hitrun label) and producing. Most excitingly these included Chapters 1 and 3 of the Cry Tuff Dub Encounter series. The first chapter is where things get really interesting in the Sherwood story. Released in the spring of 1978 this was where for the first time Adrian got his hands on the controls. There is a great interview on the DJHistory site which tracks Adrian’s route from growing up in High Wycombe to engineering in Gooseberry studios in Chinatown, Soho, with no experience but a head full of ideas about what could be done to music. Apart from being a great record, there are so many remarkable aspects to the context: the redoubtable Prince Far I having the vision to be a mentor to this young kid, and indeed the experienced engineers in Gooseberry studios, Dennis Bovell and Mark Lusardi, having the wit to indulge this technical novice who, like a boy with a new toy, wanted to push things as far as they would go. But then again we are talking about Dennis Bovell and Mark Lusardi. Dennis we must all surely know and love. Mark, too, is one of the YHO heroes, and another of the good guys in Jah Wobble’s autobiography. He worked with PiL and on many great British
reggae recordings, and produced the lost Subway Sect LP. The case is closed.
In the CD booklet accompanying Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter 1 there is such a great photo of Prince Far I with Adrian Sherwood in 1978. I think you could write a whole book based on the implicit story around that one snapshot. The Chapter 3 reissue features that famous (Beth Lesser?) photo of Prince Far I in a (Pringle?) diamond jumper, which reappeared on the rear of the excellent Blood and Fire Silver and Gold compilation which came out in 2005. The Chapter 3 dub set itself first appeared on vinyl through the Daddy Kool label, the outlet of the shop owned by Keith Stone which Steve Barrow had been instrumental in setting up, back in the mid-‘70s out of premises in Hanway Street in the west end of London. Beyond the brilliance of Prince Far I & the Arabs, part of the appeal of Chapter 3 for those coming from a punk perspective is the shiver of
delight at the presence of guest contributors: Steve Beresford, David Toop, Ari Up, Viv Goldman, and especially Elizabeth Archer who in 1977 had with The Equators made the extraordinary lovers rock version of Feel Like Making Love for Lightning. This was produced by Patric Cann, who I believe was the manager of The Equators. He was also behind a couple of other great singles Winston Fergus made for Lightning around that time, African Woman and Long Time Now. Winston Fergus also sang with Basement 5 at the very start, before they recorded with Martin Hannett, as they were beginning to pull different ideas together, mixing musical styles. Part of Adrian Sherwood’s genius has always been about bringing together talented people from different cultural backgrounds and musical disciplines. It’s something another great YHO hero Denis Preston did in the 1950s, at Melodisc and while he was running Lansdowne studios in Notting Hill, putting West Indian calypsonians with African drummers, American jazz singers, modern and trad. jazz musicians plus skiffle performers together in different permutations to see what happened. In my more ‘grudgeful’ moments I strongly suspect that the On-U Sound catalogue is more namedropped than listened to, and that the On-U Sound approach is more admired than acted on. That, as the saying goes, is a little unkind and a little unwise: I’m not sure how accessible the archives of On-U Sound are, for a start, and we all have to start somewhere. Part
of the fun is in discovering the On-U Sound catalogue at what is the right time for the listener. I know how exciting it was immersing myself in the On-U Sound MasterRecordings series which started to appear on CD in 1997, through EFA Medien which I believe was a German organisation that handled Europeanwide distribution. Certainly EFA was a familiar acronym on CD covers in the ‘90s through labels like Basic Channel and acts like Tortoise and The Sea and Cake. The company is now long gone, as is the way of things, so I suspect the CDs in the On-U Sound MasterRecordings series have gone the same way. Initially, I think, there were 16 titles in the MasterRecordings series , released on CD in consistent editions from 1997 onwards. This was not the first time old On-U/Adrian Sherwood productions had appeared on CD. In the early ‘90s On-U Sound had released a series of compilations: African Head Charge’s Great Vintage, Creation Rebel’s Historic Moments, New Age Steppers’ Massive Hits, Dub Syndicate’s Classic Selection, Singers & Players’ Golden Greats. I think it’s fair to say not too much care had been put into the presentation of these sets. The kindest thing you can say is that these editions did not give too much away beyond the music. Cherry Red had also in the early ‘90s reissued on CD the On-U Sound productions it originally released on LPs a decade-or-so earlier, featuring essential titles from Voice of Authority, Playgroup, Creation Rebel/New Age Steppers,
Singers & Players, as well as the Wild Paarty Sounds compilation. These reissues came in curiously unattractive generic packaging, which ignored the original cover artwork, but were nevertheless more than essential. The MasterRecordings series itself was not up to the standard of Soul Jazz or Blood and Fire releases aesthetically, but at least the full LPs were issued (without unnecessary bonus tracks) with the original front cover artwork used. Of the 16 titles in the first phase of the MasterRecordings series 11 were LPs from 1984 and before. Two more were compilations (predominantly) of productions in the On-U Sound Disco Plates 10” series, and so the tracks were also mainly from the early 1980s. The early ‘80s LPs featured in this series were originally released on a variety of labels for a number of very practical reasons: Situation Two, 99, Statik as well as On-U Sound itself. Each of the titles in the MasterRecordings series came with informative, if not encyclopaedic, annotations by Steve Barker, who has since 1984 presented the On The Wire show on BBC Radio Lancashire. This was the one show that seemed to be blessed with John Peel’s approval, and Steve’s name will be familiar to many who have lived outside the programme’s catchment area possibly via his long-term association with The Wire magazine. The digital age may have its many merits, but losing the ability to examine credits in detail is worrying. Studying the sleevenotes of titles from
the early years of On-U Sounds is particularly revealing, with names recurring in different outfits. The strength of those titles has a lot to do with the pool of reggae musicians Adrian Sherwood worked with over a period of time. Their musicianship is right at the heart of these extraordinary records. They are the anchor or fulcrum which allows Adrian to explore the madness in his area. Collectively these singers and players have made up different aggregates, Creation Rebel or Dub Syndicate specifically, but have also appeared in different permutations on satellite projects. I am thinking particularly of Lizard Logan and George Oban on bass; Crucial Tony on guitar; Style Scott, Charlie ‘Eskimo’ Fox, and Clifton ‘Bigga’ Morrison on drums; Carlton ‘Bubblers’ Ogilvie on keyboards, and Deadly Headley on sax. It is to these musicians eternal credit that they were more than prepared to participate in sessions where the traditionalists’ ideas about reggae music and dub production would be turned inside out.
In addition to these players from a reggae background, certain individuals’ names recur among the credits. These are the On-U Sound irregulars. They include Steve Beresford; Martin Frederix on bass and other instruments as required, who had been in London Underground, played with Family Fodder, and had connections to the wider This Heat circle; Nick Plytas on keyboards, who had been in pub rock/soul outfit Roogalator; Pete Stroud (a.k.a. Dr Pablo) on melodica, who was an old schoolfriend of Adrian’s from High Wycombe and was there at the start; and Dave ‘Flash’ Wright on saxophone, who also played with Essential Logic and Rip Rig & Panic and recently has recorded with Vic Godard. And then there were the special guests, the kindred spirits, drifting in and out of recording sessions, by accident or design. Among those credited in this MasterRecordings series are John Waddington and Tony Wraffer of Maximum Joy; Ari Up, Viv Albertine and Bruce Smith from the Slits; plus Keith Levene, John Lydon and Jah Wobble from PiL. Understandably Adrian Sherwood’s connections with the extended Pop Group/Slits/PiL community is pretty well documented and pretty central to all of this. “You know, those African Head Charge records were a labour of love to me, and we didn't really expect too many financial rewards. When you listen to a record like Environmental Studies, it's clear that a sound like that might be intimidating to some people. Woven into the mix, you can hear car crashes, water flowing,
bottles breaking. We used a lot of ‘found sounds’ and many ‘environment sounds’ from the studio down at Berry Street where it was recorded. It's a long time since I've listened to that record, but who knows what sounds we put into that record, I think we even might have used water sounds from the toilets and humming vibrations from the boiler room! I haven't listened to that record in a long time, for the simple reason that when I was working on the record, I listened to it repeatedly, day in, day out, so in my mind, it’s very much a part of that time ... I'll have to go back to it and listen to it again sometime …” - Adrian Sherwood quoted in an interview (copyright 2003) by Gregory Mario Whitfield, published on the Uncarved site Of the records in the On-U Sound MasterRecordings series I think African Head Charge’s Environmental Studies from 1982 has very special significance for me. The debut by African Head Charge, My Life in a Hole in the Ground, is the one that writers refer to, usually in the context of either David Lynch’s Wild At Heart or as a response to Byrne & Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. But if Byrne & Eno’s excellent experiment was a one-off, and something they never bettered, then Adrian Sherwood proved he was bolder and tougher by coming up with a sequel that was less accessible and altogether stranger. African Head Charge was nominally a vehicle for the extraordinary Ghanaian percussionist Bonjo I(yabinghi Noah) who had been part of
Creation Rebel. In reality Bonjo I’s abilities gave Adrian Sherwood an outlet for his experimental tendencies that went way beyond mainstream reggae. And if we continue the analogies there are similarities here with Denis Preston and another Ghanaian master percussionist Guy Warren about whom Val Wilmer has written in a characteristically vivid way.
Environmental Studies is the definitive African Head Charge/On-U record, and such an extraordinary suite of music. At times it is almost stripped down to a drum and bass symphony, where certain movements are punctuated by wonderful jazzy saxophone passages and extraneous noises and sound effects. In the CD liner notes Steve Barker refers to a conversation Adrian Sherwood had around this time with “Geoff Travis of Rough Trade and David Thomas, from the band Pere Ubu, about water noises and other ambient sounds playing ‘louder’ than the band.” Steve goes on to add that “the album's sound could only been have achieved in the studios at
Berry Street. They had an old style reverb plate just waiting to be used and abused - inna King Tubby style, a mainly stone-built toilet where Adrian stacked big speakers with an auxiliary microphones to obtain the sound of distant drums (sic), and most importantly a bunch of stacked-up free time in which to record some tunes!”. There is also an engaging paragraph in David Toop’s Ocean of Sound about recording in these studios.
Berry Street studios (the hole in the ground) were favoured by Rough Trade and reggae acts at this time, presumably partly for practical reasons like cost and its fairly central London location in Clerkenwell. The Raincoats’ LPs were recorded there. Adrian had done work for Rough Trade there, on The Fall’s Slates and the Slits’ Man Next Door. The 1980 Last Words LP Adrian produced was also recorded there. And many of the best On-U Sound recordings would be made in Berry Street, so maybe on Environmental Studies we hear the rhythmic abstractions of derelict London (well, certainly pre-regen) when there
was time to dally and be unbothered, and the end of the world seemed nigh. Even Rodney wore a UK Decay t-shirt on Only Fools and Horses as a sign of the times in an episode about preparing for nuclear Armageddon. When writing about Adrian Sherwood’s exceptional On-U Sound productions there is a tendency to treat them as isolated cases, or only dwell on the reggae/Slits/Pop Group links, but the beauty of hindsight is seeing how a record like Environmental Studies fits into a remarkable tapestry, quite unwittingly no doubt but it had contemporaneous connections: Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus’ Nyabinghi dub, Scientist, Adrian’s association with Suns of Arqa, Mad Professor’s Ariwa label, Lora Logic’s Pedigree Charm, GLC free festivals, ACR’s samba school and Sir Horatio dub diversions, Tom Tom Club, Jah Shaka, Fela Kuti, Sonny Okosun (who had been working with Eddy Grant), 23 Skidoo, ESG, the first WOMAD festival, Jah Wobble’s Can connections, Rocker’s Revenge, Warp 9’s Nunk, Don Cherry’s work with Codona (featuring the wonderful percussion of Nana Vasconcelos) and the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s recordings for ECM, Defunkt, Cabaret Voltaire’s 2x45, Hector Zazou and Papa Wemba, Planet Rock, Gasper Lawal’s remarkable afro-dub disco LP Ajomasé, Sun Ra on Y, Konk, Indeep, Mambo Nassau by Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Ornette Coleman’s Of Human Feelings, Liquid Liquid, the Fun Boy Three’s first LP produced by Dave Jordan but not the David Byrne-produced follow-up. That’s today’s
tableau. Tomorrow’s could be cut from a different cloth.
This is the sort of mellifluous menace Massive Attack and Tricky aimed for at one time.
The production in the On-U Sound MasterRecordings series that completely foxed me or rather shook me to the core was Warzone by the Missing Brazilians. When I bought it in the late ‘90s it was on spec, as I’d never heard or read about it before. I haven’t heard or read that much about it since, come to that. Is it available now? How available was it then? I seemed to buy all my On-U reissues in Sister Ray on Berwick Street, Soho, the original small shop by the market. How available was it originally? Did anyone champion it in 1984? Were those MasterRecordings in the late ‘90s widely reviewed? I don’t remember seeing any indepth appreciations. I could be wrong, though.
The Missing Brazilians were another anonymous On-U Sound studio collective, in the tradition of Playgroup. Essentially it was Adrian with his partner Kishi Yamamoto, with on this occasion very few guest players. Nick Plytas, Martin Frederix, Bonjo I, Eskimo, Evar Wellington and Bembo all put in fleeting appearances, but Adrian and Kishi do pretty much everything else. As time passes I suspect ever more strongly that Kishi was the On-U heartbeat: in the 1980s she featured musically on most titles, did most of the distinctive artwork for the covers, and was often involved in the writing and producing. On the magnificent Missing Brazilians record she wrote every track with Adrian.
Warzone was released in 1984 but even in 1999, say, it sounded outlandish, and was a sobering reminder about how taut, tame and samey so much electronica was sounding at the end of the old millennium. Steve Barker refers to Warzone as being about as abstract Adrian got in the studio. It is probably his most revolutionary work, where things were being pushed as far as possible. It is at heart though an attractively melodic work, and this is what all the selfappointed extreme noise terrorists miss in their creations. Warzone is like a beautiful work of art that is wilfully mutilated, defaced even, out of spite, by the artist. The listener can be lulled by the gracefulness and then rudely shaken by sudden sound swerves and destabilising effects.
And, as an aside, importantly her photography provides an important eyewitness account of the time and the snapshots are often as evocative as the music itself. Kishi’s website hosts some incredible photos, and a 2011 Melissa Bradshaw interview with Adrian for The Quietus site is beautifully illustrated with some remarkable images from the early days of On-U, including one of Lee Perry and Little Annie outside of the garden shed in Adrian’s garden. Annie is one of the featured singers on the Missing Brazilians LP. There are two extended songs that are right at the core of the record, showpieces around which the rest revolves, and Annie sings on the astonishingly unsettling Gentle Killers, sounding suitably dramatic,
making it come across as a twisted torch song. At the time she was known as Annie Anxiety, and around then made an incredible LP with Adrian and Kishi called Soul Possession, which came out on Crass’ Corpus Christi label and is now finally available on CD after Southern sat on it for years and years.
It’s almost a complementary record to the Missing Brazilians one. Penny Rimbaud and Eve Libertine from Crass feature, as does Derek Birkett of Flux of Pink Indians who a little later started the One Little Indian label. On-U irregulars Bonjo I and Martin Frederix also feature on this genuinely shocking slab of electro psychotic Brechtian voodoo lovers rock. It makes me laugh out loud, and imagine it’s like Lydia Lunch adopting the persona of Barry
Gifford’s Perdita Durango or Mark Perry and the Good Missionaries freaking out to Planet Rock. There were few singers who made standalone LPs as part of On-U Sound in the early days: Bim Sherman and Mark Stewart are exceptions. Annie Anxiety and Judy Nylon are the others I am aware of. Interestingly, and probably coincidentally, Annie and Judy were both from a New York performance art background. Annie got involved in music in the UK through the Crass community. Judy was part of the incredible duo Snatch with Patti Paladin, and there was a pre-On-U connection through Nick Plytas who played on their legendary lush Lightning 45 All I Want/When I’m Bored. Curiously, Pal Judy, the 1982 On-U Sound LP by Judy Nylon (and Crucial) and the Snatch back catalogue remain stubbornly, stupidly, out-ofcirculation.
The other featured singer on the Missing Brazilians LP is Shara Nelson who provides
delicious Deniece Williams-style scat jazzy vocals on the 8-minutes-plus Savanna Prance, which perhaps once was a Latin jazz fusion excursion, with great performances by On-U irregulars Nick Plytas and Bonjo I, until a mad scientist initiated sonic warfare with demented dub distortion, creating an oppressive atmosphere akin to a Robert Stone story of paranoia and psychic disintegration. Shara featured on another classic On-U set by Kishi and Adrian which was recorded in 1984, the Voice of Authority LP (V.B.I.A.R.N.) which Cherry Red put out, where she sings on In Another World, again starting by doing a scat thing before developing into a sort of conscious lovers rock performance similar to those which the Mad Professor produced at Ariwa with Sister Audrey and Aisha. That Voice of Authority record, coming after the Annie Anxiety and Missing Brazilians ones, marks a fascinating period of transition in the On-U Sound story, with a gradual drift towards a more electronic sound, and with a very definite hardening of attitudes, which is understandable given musical and technological developments and the global political climate: the postFalklands re-elected Thatcher administration, the war on ‘the enemy within’ (the Unions, the left-wing city councils), Greenham Common and anti-nuclear protests, apartheid in South Africa, famine in Ethiopia, Reagan and US foreign policy, the IRA’s bombing campaign, high unemployment in the UK, and so on. This is the climate in which Ranking Ann and Mad
Professor produced Kill The Police Bill for Ken Livingstone’s GLC or Greater London Council. On the Voice of Authority’s V.B.I.A.R.N. there are magical moments among the cut-up snatches of melody, dialogue and electro beats where the sound pre-empts the ‘digital rasta’ (©Cabaret Voltaire, 1984) patterns that would be traced by the Disciples, Digital Mystikz, Shackleton, Pinch etc. Interestingly Mala from Digital Mystikz recently recorded in Cuba as part of a project initiated by Gilles Peterson, pitching the UK bass tradition in with modern-day Cuban performers. The resulting CD is rather magical, and I think succeeds because it is not reverential or an attempt to be ‘authentic’. Mala acknowledges he was stepping way outside of his ‘bass music’ comfort zone, and that is no doubt partly why it works so well. Once upon a time this sort of project was pretty popular: collusion or ‘outernationalism’ was the name of the game, nothing was off-limits. A Strut CD of early Celluloid releases annotated by Vivien Goldman makes this case strongly. But then again Strut is another label that has persistently dared to join the dots. In its original incarnation the titles included essential ones by Tony Allen, Oneness of Juju, the Nigeria 70 collection, the Disco Not Disco ones, old library music, the Incredible Bongo Band, the Wild Bunch soundsystem story, and so on. Among the early Celluloid releases (but not featured on the Strut collection) was a single by Chantage, which was Vivien Goldman and Eve
Blouin. One side, It’s Only Money, was produced by Adrian Sherwood, and the other, Same Thing Twice, was co-produced by Carroll Thompson. Among the featured singers and players were George Oban, Bruce Smith, Neneh Cherry, Steve Beresford, Archie Pool, Style Scott, Deadly Headley, Annie Whitehead, the Hungarian violinist Jancsi Hosszu, the Zairean guitar player Jerry Malekani, and Bubbles, the leader of the Mangrove Steel Band. I like to think I know a thing or two about the music of the post-punk era but I had no idea about these recordings until the Skank Bloc Bologna site featured an interview with Viv about Chantage, as a trail for its own Spikey Dread collection of punky/reggae interface sounds. Ironically, I knew It’s Only Money in its instrumental form as Going Overdrawn, a track on the Playgroup Epic Sound Battles Chapter Two LP, which was an On-U Sound recording that came out on Cherry Red in 1983, but I had no idea about the actual origins of the recording. You see, there is always something more to be learned. That 1993 article for the Independent Catalogue ... it sort of ended with another quote from Joe Foster, and at the time I really knew what he meant: “There’s a whole world of music. You can’t be creating new things without being aware of what’s around you. Nobody lives on an island. Knowledge of what’s been going on is important”.
A 2013 YHO PRODUCTION Cover design by Per-Christian Hille – with affectionate nods to Mat Cook and Intro Special thanks to Austen Harris for sharing the 1993 Postcard Records article from the Independent Catalogue and unwittingly providing part of the inspiration for this issue. Thanks also to Angelos Milonas for the beautiful Hadjidakis CDs.