... your heart out
â&#x20AC;¦ disco no disco yes
The Disco Ball's a Globe Searching for clues in the library of a drama college, I recently stumbled upon an unloved book from 1989 on “world music, politics and social change”, edited by Simon Frith, featuring papers from the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, and published by the Manchester University Press. Flicking through it out of curiosity I was struck by its totally topical opening sentence: “We live, we are often told, in a museum culture, clinging on to the artefacts of the past because we cannot invent appropriate ones ourselves.” The general editors’ preface continued, pretty much capturing what I feel at the moment: “Yet even if this is true, it is also true that more people than ever before are interested in and enjoy some form of music: people who attend concerts of some or other kind and people who play music themselves, as well as the countless millions who buy records and tapes (themselves the products of a major industry) or simply experience the pervasive effects of music on radio and television and in films. Though heterogeneous, this public is enormous, including both those who are professionally involved in the production of masterworks and those who just ‘know what they like’ when they chance to hear it. For despite another of the claims often made about contemporary societies – that their rationalistic and utilitarian values have all but erased the spiritual, the emotional, in a word the distinctively human qualities of life – it is evident that the clamour for music not only survives but indeed is intensified, in such societies. In short, music matters ...” While much of the book reeks of academia there is a prevailing sense of genuinely wanting to learn and share information about popular music and culture from around the world. I can understand that. It’s what I thrive on. It’s the opposite of nostalgia. And it’s what motivates me. There is no escaping the fact that I am ridiculously excited about discovering new information and new areas of music I know next-to-nothing about. But with the thrill of discovery there comes an everincreasing sense that ‘the more you learn, the more there is to learn’. That’s why the thrill of the chase will never end.
Let me give an example: by chance on YouTube I chanced upon a whole cache of wonderful clips of Afghan pop music, predominantly I presume from the late ‘70s or very early ‘80s. There is an incredible number of these great videos, salvaged from the archives of RTA, the Afghan radio and TV station, posted by various people, featuring some incredible music and charming performances. But I would have to put my hands up and admit to knowing pretty much nothing at all about Afghan pop music, and to be honest I know very little more now. You can see some of these clips for yourself over at the Anywhere Else But Here Today project. They are, I think, fantastic. The music is brilliant, the singers mesmerising. It’s tempting to draw comparisons with the Persian clips posted previously as part of that project. There are certainly similarities in the way traditional elements are fused with a more worldly pop approach. It’s tempting too to wonder what might have transpired in both Iran and Afghanistan if history hadn’t taken such ridiculous turnings. Certainly the sophisticated stylings captured in these videos could have had a similar impact on the pop music world as a whole in the way, say,Algerian rai music did in the 1980s.
I am assuming that many of the Afghan pop singers and players went into exile or gave up performing when such a horrible sequence of events followed the Soviet invasion. I have frequently fallen into despair while working on the Anywhere Else But Here Today project, angry at the way the world has turned out. Progress is not really what’s been achieved is it? One of the persistent themes in the book on world music, politics and social change is how pop music remains a democratising or civilising force. Well, compared to religion or nationalism that’s certainly true. It’s also a unifying force. And if you want a symbol of that you could choose an early portable Roland synth or electronic keyboard or an equivalent brand which was utilised by musicians pretty much everywhere by the start of the 1980s. Look at or listen to the clips on the Anywhere Else But Here Today site, from Iran to Afghanistan, from the Eritrean freedom fighters to the Algerian rai producers, from Ethiopia to Pakistan to the USSR, the keyboard’s there and it’s been part of some pretty incredible music. There’s another great passage in that book, in a paper by Alenka Barber-Kersovan on “tradition and acculturation as polarities of Slovenian popular music” where in the context of The Beatles being replaced by Saturday Night Fever or disco as the prime shaping force she writes: “Since it is continually present in the media, pop has lost its exclusive character. It is not the Leitmotiv of a generation any more, but simply ‘pop music’, suitable for any situation and a medicine for every single disease. Pop music no longer has only one central value; it is multifunctional. It can be background noise, a possibility for enjoyment, a fashionable attitude, a means to self-realisation, identification and communication as well as a way to express discomfort when everyday life puts too much pressure on”. Pressure? Pleasure? When you consider the damage done to the world in the name of religion and nationalism then the idea of disco music, itself an amorphous concept, taking hold without regard for frontiers seems incredibly appealing. And there are times when it would seem tempting to listen solely to vintage disco sounds and be set adrift on disco bliss (to borrow a title from the excellent Maria Minerva).Disco’s preoccupation with cosmic concerns is well
documented, but its participants also had a healthy interest in globetrotting. So to celebrate the worldwide disco impulse we will, in the words, of Mexican model turned New York diva Martina “disco around the world” with a series of irregular stops for refuelling along the way. Come on let’s go ... _______________________ The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 1 Nothing is ever straight forward is it? I sometimes wish it was. Life would be simpler ... but a lot less fun. Let me give you an example of how nothing is ever straight forward.Recently I was engrossed in compiling a sequence of vintage Afghan pop for theAnywhere Else But Here Today project when I was distracted by one clip that featured a troupe of young girls performing a pop/traditional dance to an astonishing number that almost defied description. It was quite simply the best thing I’d found since stumbling on the video of girls from an Algerian high school dancing to the pioneering rai pop track Ya Salah by Noureddine Staifi. And there were very definite similarities, in terms of time, the mutant disco sound, clash between ancient and modern, the mixture of innocence and knowingness, the pure intoxicating glory of being alive.
The video itself had very little information, except being titled Gulshan Ey Sanam and being labelled simply “Tajik ‘80s video”. Putting together what information I could I began to understand that this was a performance in Kabul by musicians and dancers from Tajikistan, presumably in the early ‘80s. What amazed me though was learning the song itself was a cover or reinterpretation of a 1978 disco classic, Sandstorm by La Bionda. I wish I was clever enough to have spotted that straight off. That wonderful piece of information in itself raises more questions. After all, as far as I know, La Bionda didn’t have any hits in the UK. So somehow a mock-middle eastern flavoured track recorded at the height of the Munich disco explosion, produced by two Italian bothers (who also worked as D.D. Sound), written by Charly Ricanek from Czechoslovakia (who also worked with the great Amanda Lear), engineered by Harry Thumann of Underwater fame (who later returned to the middle east theme onSphinx), made it to Tajikistan in the Soviet era and was seized upon and reinvented as something to share culturally. But who had made the astonishing music featured on the video? Were the girls dancing to a recording? Were the musicians shown the ones that played on this?And who were Gulshan? You see! These things can keep you awake at night. Ah the thrill of the chase. Well, from what I can gather Gulshan was an ensemble put together by Karomatullo Qurbonov, a legendary figure in Tajik pop history who, with members of his group, was murdered in 1992 by militia during the civil war that followed the break-up of the old Soviet Union. There is footage on YouTube of Karomatullo talking about Gulshan, but my linguisitic skills fail me dismally so I can’t really add any more. There, however, are some great clips of Karomatullo performing, and the dancers from the Ey Sanam clip seem to feature. There are also a number of other clips of Gulshan (or Golssan as it seems to be translated on occasions) performing at various events with a variety of singers. Hearing Ey Sanam I thought immediately of PiL’s Flowers of Romance. I almost feel ashamed saying that, clutching at convenient references, but there was something about the hypnotic swirl of sound, the thud of the drums, the mystery, the menace. Then I thought
perhaps Death Disco with that guitar sound. And curiously when I sent the Gulshan link to the YHO artistic guru PC (of Music From The Third Floor) fame it was the shuddering bass he picked up on, suggesting it was as if Jah Wobble had spent the ‘80s in Eastern Europe. And there’s something in that.Eastern and disco influences certainly permeated Wobble’s works during that time: if you think of, say, the decadent disco mix of Invaders of the Heart and so on. The great man has also referred to getting inspiration from the mix of sounds from around the world he’d hear on his shortwave radio, like Egyptian singer Om Kalsoum. It’s tempting to play with the idea of Wobble hearing Ey Sanam through the crackle back home in his East London flat. The sound on Ey Sanam is so fantastic that it makes you wonder what else Gulshan came up with? I have heard one other song on a Soviet disco mix. But were there records? Are they available anywhere? And was the Gulshan version the only reworking of Sandstorm around at that time in Tajikistan? I’ve heard an instrumental uptempo disco version which I think is by Na-Na, but I’m unsure of the vintage of that one. The song itself, Ey Sanam, seems to have a life of its own. Search around and you’ll find contemporary 'house' remixes and cover versions from around the world.But there is something enchanting about the grainy salvaged from VHS quality of the Kabul clip that captures perfectly a pop moment. ________________________ The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 2 The old Soviet Union had its appeal for pop and disco exoticists: fromTelex and Moskow Diskowto Nina Hagen’s Russian Reggae to Manicured Noise and Moscow 1980 toThe Lonely Spy by Lori & The Chameleons. But it wasn’t all one way traffic.The Soviet Union absorbed western disco music in its broadest sense and returned it with love and interest. For example, there are, quite rightly, those that swear by the recordings of the Latvian group Zodiac. Anyone hearing their early ’80 records now, for the first time, may understandably suspect an elaborate hoax. Their electronic rock fits almost too perfectly into the ‘space disco’ category, evoking what are already distant memories of Studio’s West Coast,
Lindstrom, Prins Thomas and all those great tracks that helped spark a major resurgence of interest in disco sounds with a cosmic twist. Zodiac’s first LP from 1980 was wonderfully titled Disco Alliance, though anyone anticipating a full-on dancefloor extravaganza may feel misled. Listening to this wonderful record it’s no surprise to learn that Magic Fly by Space was a massive success in the Soviet Union. It’s no surprise either to learn that there is a thriving market in vintage Soviet synths, but that’s another matter, especially as you sense Janis Lusens and Zodiac were outward looking and more interested in their ARPs and Yamaha keyboards. Zodiac’s second LP, Music in the Universe from 1982, was apparently very much inspired by stories the group heard from cosmonauts and this is certainly reflected in titles like The Mysterious Galaxy and The Other Side of Heaven. Both these LPs have been made available on CD in recent years, and YouTube has some fantastic footage of the group performing, in an early incarnation and somewhat later with appropriately a spinning disco ball in the background of the Russian TV set. Brilliantly one of the early Zodiac songs was called Provincial Discowhich reminds me of ‘disco scholar’ Peter Shapiro describing 5000 Volts’ I’m On Fire as “somehow reminiscent of Cossacks dancing at a provincial disco in Staffordshire”.Withering put-down or irresistible selling-point? The fourth Zodiac LP at the end of the ‘80s was a celebration of their Latvian roots, while at the start of the decade another Latvian pop outfit Eolika had celebrated their home on the fantastic LP Dreams of Riga. Piecing together Eolika’s story is a tricky business, but this record has some wonderful disco infused pop on, which will particularly appeal to lovers of the Silver Convention swish/kick sound, and that exquisite mix of the symphonic and the minimalist. Another track from the LP,Falling Stars or Zvezdopad, has groove collectors from around the world quite rightly drooling. Another Latvian collective, Modo also captured the disco thing pretty perfectly, albeit approached from more of a jazz/funk direction. Zigmars Liepins, one of the group’s members, has made available some of the fantastic music Modo recorded via his website, and there’s a lot of fun to be had exploring the
tracks posted from the Modo EPs, like the gorgeous Spele Vel from 1980. The tracks from Modo singer Mirdza Zivere’s 1979 solo LP are particularly recommended, especially the gorgeousZozefino. The tracks from Zigmars’ own 1985 LP, Pulse 2, are also well worth investigating to get a taste of the Soviet take on electro (with a jazz rock/fusion imaginary soundtrack slant). That particular LP, part of a series on sport and music, also has one of the best covers ever. Look up Eolika or Modo and the chances are you will come across a reference to Raimonds Pauls, the Latvian maestro and pioneering pop composer in the wider Soviet Union. His soundtrack work, such as for the score of a Soviet adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, is rated highly by crate-diggers and beat-seekers around the world that know a lot more than me about such things. And among the great Soviet artists his name is associated with is Alla Pugacheva, a singer who for once seems to suit the term diva and who has played a fantastically important role in Soviet pop history. She seems like one of those great contradictions whom the State sanctioned but grew increasingly wary of. Ironically in the West many of us will only have come across her name when 50 Cent’s people sampled her superb songShakespeare’s Sonnets, and for that unlikely introduction I am enormously grateful to the rapper as it inadvertently led to a lot of pleasure rummaging around on YouTube among the old clips of Alla. And if the
propulsive groove on those Soviet recordings sounds as tight and as metronomic as the finest Philly players then that’s because those guys could really perform with precision and flair. And I realise we are only aware of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Soviet and Eastern European funk and disco sounds. Another great Soviet composer associated with Alla Pugacheva is Alexander Zatsepin. Among the songs they recorded together in, I believe, the mid-to-late ‘70s is the phenomenally titled The Shaman’s Tambourine and some great numbers from films like The Woman Who Sings. It is worth scouring around for whatever fragments you can find of Zatsepin’s soundtrack work (and he was by all accounts an electronics enthusiast so there's lots of wonderfully odd effects!), and particularly recommended is the astonishing 31st June, a late ‘70s film about what happens when you mix futures and pasts, based on a J.B. Priestley story, featuring dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet and a wonderful and bizarre disco-infused soundtrack sung by among others the delightfully named Tatyana Antisiferova ...
punk minimalism, with a hint of disco, not far removed from an early ‘80s Rough Trade YMGs/The Gist feel. Itt van, pedig senki se hívta covered similar ground. It all just seemed too good to be true. Further investigation revealed the songs were from the soundtrack of the 1984 Janos Xanthus film Eskimo Woman Feels Cold which featured Trabant and in particular singer Marietta Mehes in a lead role. As the Hungarian new wave blog No More Victim puts it: “It's a difficult story, with Trabant music. In this movie, we can watch a bit sex, we can watch difficult circumstances of life and we can listen new wave musics ... It's a great film!” You can’t argue with that. An EP of Trabant songs from the film was I believe the only recording the group officially
_________________________ The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 3 The forgotten book on “world music, politics and social change” which inadvertently triggered this global disco excursion includes a fascinating paper by Anna Szemere, “‘I get frightened of my voice’: on avant-garde rock in Hungary”, which focuses on the new wave or post-punk underground area of activity.It was with a small shiver of delight and self-satisfaction that I recognised the names Trabant and Balaton, and I was particularly excited by Anna’s description of these groups: “The Trabant/Balaton celebrate the precarious boundary between the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal’, a floating sensation, by immersing themselves in a completely self-enclosed space of their own. Musical and lyrical trivia from 1960s pop styles are re-worked by exaggerated simplicity and also disrupted by microdissonances and the insertion of entirely alien textual elements.” Not so long ago I stumbled across clips of Trabant on YouTube and was mesmerised. The song that really caught my attention was Ragaszthatatlan szív, a sort of reggae-underpinned piece of post-
released. There, however, are scattered around tapes and video footage of rehearsals which are fantastic. From Trabant (and what a great name for an Eastern European group that is) it was a short hop to Balaton who it seemed covered similar ground, which makes sense as Anna Szemere mentions a shared history and overlap of members between Balaton and Trabant. I’m not sure Balaton ever made a record but there are some intriguing live recordings if you search around. One other name I recognised from Anna’s article was Beatrice. In the context of the book Beatrice were Hungary’s leading punk rock outfit. In her paper Anna refers to a January 1981 NME feature by Chris Bohn on the Hungarian new wave, and in
this he describes Beatrice as “a strange sight, a raggedy four-piece all pushing 30; curly, rattish hair falling to their shoulders, balding heads and gringo moustaches seem defiantly at odds with their status as most popular punk band in Hungary.” That’s not the strangest thing about Beatrice, though. I got very confused as the Beatrice I was familiar with from fishing around on YouTube played wonderful funky sounds likeGyere Kislany, Gyere, one of the songs that popularised disco music in Hungary. With so much nonsense having been written about the funk/punk and disco-not-disco overlaps it’s amusing that Beatrice made the transition from disco pioneers to punk caricature. That messes up the story lines doesn’t it? But the Beatrice story is wonderfully strange, full stop. The group started back in the ‘60s as an all female outfit, led by Monika Czuka. In 1976 her husband Feró Nagy joined the group, and Beatrice gradually evolved into a funky outfit before disbanding, allowing Feró to start a new punk/heavy rock line-up. Ironically in Anna’s paper on the Hungarian new wave she refers to tensions and occasional violence between ‘hard rockers’ and ‘disco kids’, disparate tribes of working-class youths. With the rise in popularity of disco music and the opening of more discos in Hungary in the latter years of the ‘70s the country’s singers and players naturally rode the wave. The glorious Judith Szucs (who I believe played keyboards with Beatrice at some stage) seems to have been the queen of the Magyar disco scene, and judging by the vintage clips posted on YouTube her charms would have been hard to resist.Is it wrong to be childishly delighted that Judith’s finest moment seems to have been the 1979 hit Urdiszko? It just seems so perfect after the number of times we have endured writers wittering on about so-andso being ur-punk or proto-punk. Well, here’s Urdiszko in all its infectious Biddu-bounce-along glory with quite possibly the finest opening 15seconds ever in pop music. Another phenomenally successful Hungarian disco ensemble was Neoton Familia.The group’s roots reached back to the ‘60s when the group Neoton was formed, taking their name from a brand of Czechoslovakian guitars (one for the Orange Juice fans there), and they seem to have created some fantastic psych-pop along the
way.In the 1970s they merged with the female singing trio Kócbabák, and became Neoton Familia creating some outward-looking, gloriously inventive and very commercial disco pop which intriguingly proved to be very popular in the Far East. It’s interesting that in Anna’s paper on the Hungarian new wave there’s nary a mention of the ‘60s generation that features on Well Hung, the wonderful Finders Keepers compilation of funky Hungarian rock. I guess that by that stage the established acts were viewed with the same disdain and despair that their counterparts were in the UK, say. One of the groups featured on that collection was Omega, and their keyboards player Laszlo Benko interestingly went on to make awonderful record in 1982, the first part of his Lexicon (an A-Z of songs), which is pure electronic rock or what would now be called space disco. In the making of this record it is carefully noted that in the making of this record Laszlo used Roland drum-computer Roland Sh1000; Roland Jupiter 4; Korg Polisix; Korg Mono / Poly; Yamaha CS 70M; Minimoog; ARP omni. The civilising effects of synthesizers and disco sounds. _________________________ The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 4 Disco Around The World is the title of a 1977 LP by the great Eurodisco group Voyage, and a statement of intent. Plenty of other disco-related acts shared Voyage’s passion for syncopated cultural tourism, and the Middle East in the broadest sense is one area that was flirted with outrageously, from La Bionda’s Sandstorm to Cabaret Voltaire’s Yashar.There will be many other examples of Middle Eastern disco hybrids, from camp exotica to genuine groundbreaking adventuresomeness, which could be wheeled out as evidence of this phenomenon. The Ritchie Family tackled an extended Arabian Nights theme, but the Abdul Hassan Orchestra was an altogether more elaborate conceit concocted by keyboard-player Hans van Eijck (a former member of Dutch pop group The Tee-Set), featuring belly dancer Yonina, and giving us late ‘70s Middle Eastern flavoured delights such as the irresistible Disco Arab. Mike Batt covered similar ground when he composedthe theme for the film Caravans, though with rather more logic as it
was part of a superb and specific soundtrack, albeit one for a film set in a very indistinct Middle Eastern location. The flipside of the same pop coin to the Abdul Hassan Orchestra is the pervasive Middle Eastern influence on Cabaret Voltaire’s early 1980s recordings, such as theRed Mecca LP and very definitely Yashar from the 2x45 set. The Cabs could claim with some conviction the Middle Eastern elements were in their music to reflect a changing political climate and explore its sinister implications. From much the same era the early Suns of Arqa took, among much else, aspects of
disco music and Middle Eastern elements to create something genuinely strange and beautiful. There is something too about words or phrases in music having a certain Middle Eastern exoticism. Hudson County’s Bim Sala Bim springs to mind. The song itself you might say has a history that is pretty odd, evolving from its mid-‘70s disco funk origins to being bootlegged as the Fantastic Soul Inventions to being covered by the James Last Orchestra as Welcome To The Party to being covered again by the Soviet Disco big band. In the USSR itself in the mid-‘70s there are examples of Middle Eastern disco exoticism, too, such as the bizarre bazaar scene from the 1976 film The Brave Chirac with a soundtrack by the great composer Alexander Zatsepin. As for Egypt and its eternal mysteries? Well, Eurodisco queen Amanda Lear sang
about aspiring to be The Sphinx, while Harry Thuman similarly evoked the spirit of The Sphinx. Alec R Costadinos used the alias of Sphinx for one of his unique style of over-the-top extravaganzas, the retelling of the New Testament stories about Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter set to disco suites which really do settle into flowing grooves that feel like they could comfortably go on forever. Costadinos was, at least, born in Egypt, so there was some logic to assuming the name of Sphinx during his remarkable progress through the disco world, via Kongas, Cerrone, Love and Kisses, the Syncophonic Orchestra, and so on. Another Egyptian born pop figure who has an important place in the history of disco is Dalida, a remarkable internationalist in a similar way to Shakira today. She is credited with having some of the earliest disco successes in France, and her song Salma ya Salama, based on an Egyptian folk song, in its Arabic version was a massive hit in the Middle East. And then there’s the allure of glamour by proxy in the adoption of an exotic name, like the disco outfit Arabesque who, while undeniably delightful, were more Abbaesque than the name implies. Blue-eyed soul legend Kenny Nolan, for example, surfaced at the height of the disco boom recording for Casablanca (but of course!) as part of Persia who as far as I know recorded just the one fantastic LP in 1979, which included the irresistible Inch By Inch. Nolan by that stage had quite a track record, as a writer with Bob Crewe (including Lady Marmalade and My Eyes Adored You) and for the bubblegum soul he came up with for the Chelsea label (Jim Gilstrap, Linda Carr, and Dee Clark). He was also behind the remarkable Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes and The Eleventh Hour. For the Persia project Nolan paired up with German producer Jurgen Koppers who had been involved with so many of the great Munich disco creations, a considerable number of which were also released on the Casablanca label. The irony is that the inventiveness and precision playing of the musicians on the Persia LP could have been perfectly replicated by Persian session men in the pre-revolutionary Iran of the late’70s. Thankfully we are now becoming more aware of this, and the Pomegranates compilation from Finders Keepers has been invaluable in
providing clues to the wealth of incredible pop recordings made in 1970s Persia, likeGoogoosh’s astonishing Talagh and Nooshafarin’s wonderful Gol-e Aftab Gardoon.YouTube, naturally, is an invaluable resource for investigating the delights of Persian pop, and it’s completely compelling how great a lot of the music is. The mix of Western dance sounds and Persian orchestrations is a winning combination, and it is heartbreaking to wonder where the music might have gone if the 1979 revolution had not have happened. It is so easy to succumb to music from around the world when it has absorbed stylings we are very close to, hence the particular appeal of the funkinfused tracks on the Pomegranates LP. The disco era was only really beginning to have an impact when the conservative clerics came to power in the new Iran, and ironically it would be Algeria that would forge ahead with rai music as the unique blend of traditional melodies and new technologies which would have an impact on Western dancefloors in the 1980s. There is nevertheless an irresistible selection of disco inspired Persian pop sounds to enjoy in the nether world of YouTube, and particular fun can be had following the trail of Ramesh, described in the Pomegranates sleevenotes as an “elusive femme rocker”. I hope one day soon Finders Keepers will do a Ramesh compilation, including the likes of the gorgeous ballad Nemigam and the propulsive Mondanam az Boodanete. There is a particularly fascinating clip of Ramesh appearing on a live TV show, from I think 1978, singing Asmar Yaaram where the group is ultra-tight and there are what seems spontaneous outbursts of dancing among the audience which is amusingly almost reminiscent of that American Bandstand TV performance by PiL from 1980 where Lydon is urging some shall we say audience participation, and the crowd really gets into Poptones and Careering. ____________________________ The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 6 Those of us in thrall to charity shops will know the feeling of staring all too often at shelves crammed with commonly discarded CDs. Occasionally, just occasionally, something will magically appear which seems so spectacularly out-of-place that the imagination whirls with wonderment: “How on
earth did that end up there?” It’s what keeps us looking. It’s what we pretty much live for. One such gloriously illogical example is when a CD of Gerson King Combo Volume II popped up in the local British Heart Foundation shop. What was that all about? I like to think I know a thing or two about Brazilian music, but I have to confess this record was one I was completely unfamiliar with. There was no way I was going to leave it behind though. The Samba & Soul stamp was enough of a clue, but the cover photo of an imperious Mr Combo resplendent in white top hat and tails and massive gold chain pretty much clinched it. And it’s one of the best spur of the moment ‘blind’ purchases I’ve ever indulged in. A lot of it is glorious James Brown-style exhortations and Barry White rumbling thunder ‘n’ satin sheets seduction. But there are a few tracks that veer towards more of a disco sound as befits its 1978 vintage. The opener, Pro Que Der e Vier, in particular is a winner. A good reference point for the Gerson King Combo sound would be Tim Maia’s Disco Club from pretty much the same time. Disco Club, however, has rather more of a full-on disco sound which makes it completely irresistible. In terms of Brazilian soul/funk sounds Tim Maia has a pretty much untouchable position, and you can’t go wrong with any of his ‘70s recordings. But the exuberant Earth Wind & Fire big band feel toDisco Club is exhilarating. And there is a kind of appropriateness to that as Kool & The Gang in their world domination enterprise phase were closely associated with Eumir Deodato whom I’m sure someone somewhere has argued laid foundations for disco with his funky reworking of Also Sprach Zarathustra. Brazil and disco were not words I always immediately put together. After all, if you can’t dance to ‘classic’ Brazilian sounds you can’t dance, so why worry about the disco beat? But it was thanks to the unique logic of YouTube that several doors opened at once. I’d looked up Restricted Code’s Love To Meet You, a reforgotten classic pop single from 1981 by an Edinburgh group Paul Morley had included in his new pop manifesto at the end of 1980, describing them as “for radio, dancing and escaping from this room into that room, the fall popped up: pop to fall over with, still young (and) so right
...” YouTube then helpfully suggested I play the video ofCorações a Mil by Marina, which turned out to be a glorious slice of Brazilian disco-infused pop from 1981, and if there is anything that should sum up what that year was supposed to be about it would be playing Restricted Code followed by Marina. Again I have to confess I wasn’t familiar with Marina (Lima) or the TV showFantástico on which the adorable video had been shown. But looking for clips from the programme of a similar vintage was a revelation, not least because it led to a cache of clips from another show at the height of the disco explosion, Mofo, featuring the irrepressibly over-the-top host Carlos Imperial and some of the most gloriously anarchic TV stage settings ever as Brazilian pop stars struggled to perform their hits amid a mass of showgirls and a screaming audience all keen to steal the show. If you think of Brazilian clichés, from Carnival to Copacabana, and magnify them by a thousand, you get a sense of the madness on these shows. Nevertheless the mayhem did lead to some joyous discoveries, such as the fantastically named As Freneticas, an all-singing all-dancing troupe whose take on disco was rather on the
Emotions’ Best of My Love anything-but understated side with definite Hollywood musical leanings along the lines of Donna Summer’s I Remember Yesterday or Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. I guess the Ritchie Family might be an apt reference point, particularly as that outfit started out with a disco take on Brazil which I’m sure is not entirely irrelevant and it is particularly fascinating when musical ideas ping back and forth. An even better discovery was Lady Zu, who was conveniently cast as Brazil’s answer to Donna Summer though that only hints at her magnificence. Her two late ‘70s LPs, A Noite Vai Chegar andFemea Brasileira, are absolutely essential Brazilian soul masterpieces. Sifting through the clips from Fantástico I came across Sandra de Sa in 1980 singing Demônio Colorido. Sandra’s was another name I was unfamiliar with, underlining how much there is still to learn about Brazilian music. Sandra’s early ‘80s LPs are really worth exploring, particularly where they head into the treacly ‘last days of disco’ territory of, say, Shalamar’s Night To Remember or Patrice Rushen’s Forget-Me-Nots on tracks like the superb Guarde Minha Voz. It’s tempting to collar a Brazilian soul freak and force them to hand over details of other ‘secret’ 1980s works in a similar style. Flirt with Brazilian disco sounds and you’ll inevitably come across Rita Lee, a far more familiar name for those of us who have approached via bossa and tropicalia. I love Rita’s post Os Mutantes work as it’s a bit of a confusing mess, particularly her late ‘70s recordings where you’ll get a fantastic mix of punchy, crunchy rockers and infectiously slinky disco pop. Search in the Fantástico archives and you’ll hopefully stumble across a glorious video of a rollerskating Rita singing Lancia Perfume. Rita’s disco numbers were incredibly popular in clubs, but not I understand to the liking of the funk/soul purists. That’s life! You could spend a lifetime untangling disco’s roots, and it all depends where you start your untangling from. Jorge Ben’s 1973 LP Ben for example begat the track Taj Mahal that was later used infamously by Rod Stewart on one of his disco hits. In the late ‘70s and into the early ‘80s Jorge Ben himself recorded more explicitly discoinfused material, and as with all his other work up until that point you really can’t go wrong. A quick
search on YouTube using the Fantástico code will bring you to a glorious 1979 video of Jorge Ben I think we can safely say thoroughly enjoying his work, singing Waimea 55000, a number that is by all accounts a bit of a lost b-side and had been something of a secret weapon in the armoury of those DJs inclined to play the best in Brazilian disco sounds . Now we can all know ... _________________________ The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 5 OPM - Manila Sound Machine is the latest in the special YHO series of mixtapes, and it’savailable to download for free here. This collection of thrillers from Manila captures the sound of the Philippines in the 1970s. Drawing on the archives of the Manila Sound and O.P.M. (Original Pilipino Music) it will appeal particularly to those with a fondness for, say, the Starland Vocal Band’s Afternoon Delight, the Four Seasons’ Silver Star, and so on. The Manila Sound was a phenomenon that took off when the music industry in the Philippines developed its own thriving scene with homegrown recordings, drawing very heavily on American pop trends but with songs delivered using lyrics in the Tagalog language with English phrases often wonderfully interjected at odd moments. Prior to this a lot of Pilipino pop was straight copies of the American sounds which flooded the airwaves. There’s nothing inherently wrong in that, and the teen outfit the Rocky Fellers were particularly successful with the classic Killer Joe, for example, in the early ‘60s. I have to admit I was completely unaware of the Manila Sound and its successor O.P.M. until I chanced upon a video of VST & Co. performing Step No, Step Yes, and had to rub my eyes in disbelief at such exquisite execution of the late ‘70s disco/soft pop sound, complete with synchronised poolside dance sequence, and a melody as ridiculously addictive as Todd Rundgren’s I Saw The Light. There were a couple of other clips of VST & Co. in action to prove this was not a one-off, and from there I confess I was hooked on the Manila Sound. The 1970s in the Philippines was a time of martial law under the Marcos regime and a time when the islands’ tourist industry was thriving. That sort of contradiction captures the Manila Sound quite
nicely. VST & Co. were massive stars with their reimaginings of US stylings. The irony is they were actually better at the whole thing than some of the people who inspired them (and rather brilliantly I saw an interview where Roger Rigor from the group mentions Dan Fogelberg and England Dan & John Ford Coley as influences). There are mentions too of Diana Ross being a fan of the VST & Co. track Awitin Mo At Isasayaw Ko which got played quite a lot at Studio 54 apparently. The mix starts with a track from the group Cinderella, who have become particular favourites of mine. The influence of the Carpenters is inescapable, and singer Yolly Samson has one of those voices that just makes you melt in the same way Karen’s can or Françoise Hardy’s singing can. But vocal duties were swapped around, and when the guys took to the mic it entered David Cassidy sinisterly sweet territory. The sound of Cinderella is almost overly saccharine at times, but for that very reason it is
fatally fascinating. Yolly, I’m afraid, died rather too young, and there seems frustratingly little about her instantly accessible, though perhaps that adds to the mystery. Despite the appeal of soft pop and disco there was much more to the Manila Sound or OPM. Asin, in particular, mixed pop with Pinoy folk roots in a pretty radical way.The name Asin itself apparently derives from the Joan Baez cover of the Stones’ Salt of the Earth, which gives a pretty good clue to the group’s sound and the singing
of the gloriously named Lolita Carbon. The Stones’ lyrics (“Raise your glass to the hard working people. Let's drink to the uncounted heads. Let's think of the wavering millions who need leading but get gamblers instead”) taken at face value summed up the Asin stance, identifying with the mass of people in the Philippines who didn’t have a voice under the Marcos regime. From what I can gather their songs were not explicitly political but their late ‘70s recordings struck a chord with people and their particularly Pilipino identity was something people could claim as their own. The track featured here, Himig Ng Pag-Ibig, is from Asin’s second LP and I’ve seen it described as “the favourite Pinoy love song of all time.” Freddie Aguilar was another successful singer who mixed folk forms and pop, and his version of the patriotic songBayan Ko was an important part of the 1986 People Power Revolution leading to Cory Aquino’s election after the downfall of the Marcos regime. The song itself dates back to a 1929 poem by Jose Corazon de Jesus, protesting at the American occupation of the Philippines. Elsewhere there are strong suggestions of a Brazilian influence. Bong Penera, for instance, was responsible for popularising bossa nova/samba jazz sounds in the Philippines, and you will usually see him mentioned as the Pilipino Sergio Mendes or Deodato. Again, nothing should be taken away from the excellence of his own recordings which could easily nestle along more celebrated sets on CTI. Interestingly both Cinderella and VST & Co. would later controversially redo their hits in a bossa nova style which would not be to everyone’s liking. This mixtape comes with a huge health warning: there are many people who will know much more than me about Manila Sound and OPM. But these are songs that have thrilled and filled me with genuine joy and I desperately wanted to share a sense of some of the things I’d discovered. They are as you can imagine from ‘a variety of sources’ and you can hear a reference at one stage to Wilbert’s Music Library, which is deliberately left in as a tribute to the people who share their valuable resources with the world. Let's go Pinoy Disco ... ____________________________
The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 7 Brand New Wayo, the first release from Comb & Razor Sound, is a beautiful thing. It’s subtitled “Funk, Fast Times & Nigerian Boogie Badness 19791983”, or as compiler Uchenne Ikonne puts it: “We called it Disco”.And the CD edition comes clad in a sumptuous box which contains an 80-page beautifully put-together mock magazine in which Uchenne tells the story of the Nigerian recording industry during that ‘boom’ period, with some lovely vintage advertisements for authentic flavour. If more compact discs were issued with such flair, flamboyance and fun the sorry old recording industry just might find itself in a much healthier position. We might even spend more of the money we don't have on its physical products. There are some fantastic tracks on Brand New Wayo. It’s impossible not to mention Kris Okotie’s Show Me Your Backside. The music is as glorious as the title, with a bubbling, unmistakably early ‘80s synth sound added to the it has to be said highlyOff The Wall influenced funk flavourings. It’s a mix that makes Dizzy K. Falola’sExcuse Me Baby just as irresistible, and underlines yet again how much there is to learn about the music that is out there. There’s little chance of us running out of history for quite some time, unless we choose to limit our horizons. It is the ladies on Brand New Wayo that steal the show. Joe Moks’ Boys And Girlsand Oby Onyioha’s I Want To Feel your Love are both
incredible tracks that in a perverse way work perfectly along side anything from Mambo Nassau by Lizzy Mercier Descloux or the Tom Tom Club, or perhaps something on Prelude or West End. Ironically there is probably the same mix of influences, just approached from a different perspective. And in the case of Tony Okoroji’s astonishing production on the Joe Moks track you have to remind yourself this was made a couple of years beforeGenius of Love. In his excellent accompanying booklet Uchenne features a piece on Ladies of the Eighties which gives a brief overview of some of the singers who turned the tables on prevailing notions of a woman’s place in Nigerian pop music. It’s a theme he had explored earlier on his legendary blog With Comb and Razor in a post I would cite as one of the best pieces of writing on pop music ever. This particular piece, from November 2007, was entitled ‘On: The Quincy Jones of Nigeria, woman singers and the London Era of Nigerian music’, and it still makes my head spin with its elegance and the abundance of information it contains. In short, it is an article that opens up so many new vistas it’s intoxicating. The main thrust of the article was about becoming aware of the producer’s role within Nigerian disco/pop sounds, with a specific focus on the work of Lemmy Jackson: “Jackson's rep as ‘the man with the magic fingers’ took off in 1981, a banner year in which three landmark albums bore his production credit: Christy EssienIgbokwe'sEver Liked My Person?, I Want To Feel Your Love, by Oby Onyioha, and under his own name, Tonight.” The piece had a great tangential theme about how in the early ‘80s some Nigerian recordings were overdubbed and mixed in London, where there were plenty of connections via Osibisa, The Funkees, etc. Appropriately for YHO readers among the musicians featured on some of these sessions was Annie Whitehead. And, even better, the featured vocalist on Jackson own LP, Tonight, was Dan-I of Monkey Chop fame, who may be the only person about whom you can get away with using the names Linton Kwesi Johnson and Trevor Horn in the same sentence. Mention of Christy Essien-Igbokwe and Oby Onyioha allows Uchenne to explain the impact female singers had on Nigerian pop in the early ‘80s: “A score of educated modern ladies holding
their heads high and singing the liberated songs of the New Woman--and some of them even wearing trousers as they did it! After the decidedly austere presentation of the folk singers, to have a woman like Oby Onyioha wearing red lipstick and a perm, cooing I Want To Feel Your Love and exhorting her sisters to Enjoy Your Life while decadent strings swooped around her was a deliciously radical change of pace, forerunning a substantial cultural shift.” Another singer mentioned is the elusive Theadora Isudu, whose second LP was actually recorded in the US and opens with the absolute classic It’s Easy. If there is a degree of caution in saying that it will be because you can’t exactly walk into a record shop and easily buy the record, which is criminal when you hear something as wonderful as Ada, which at the risk of being repetitive really has a touch of the Lizzy Mercier Descloux about it. The great thing about the With Comb and Razor site is that it challenged some of my own ideas about Nigerian music. I guess like a lot of people I’d trundled along, knowing a bit of Fela and king Sunny Ade, gradually learning more about the sound of funky Lagos in the ‘70s via labels like Strut, and overdosing on highlife and frenetic dancefloor sounds. To then come across something like Christy Essien Igbokwe singing Ever Liked My Person? and sounding suspiciously Tammy Wynette-esque or the mix of country and funk on Kris Okotie’s I Need Someone was decidedly disorientating, which is actually a good thing. The other website I would visit frequently to get a fill of African sounds was the excellent Voodoo Funk, where its host New York DJ Frank Gossner would detail his adventures travels in West Africa in search of abandoned vinyl. The site remains an invaluable resource offering some superb mixtapes collated from the records Frank has found. Among the mixtapes are a number of Nigerian 'disco' sets which are glorious, and it's fascinating to see the evolution from an almost apologetic tone for posting some of this music to a growing realisation that people are desperate to hear more. And we are! Last year Frank compiled some of these sounds for the Lagos Disco Inferno set which is another absolutely essential collection, where again the show is stolen by Doris Ebong's magnificent Boogie Trip ... ___________________________
The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 8 It’s one of the more dependable devices in crime fiction: the hiding of something specific in the middle of the very general. And so in much the same way how many people would immediately recognise Ralph MacDonald’sCalypso Breakdown?Yet many millions of people have owned it as part of the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. I wonder how many who heard that track would go on to investigate other works by the New York percussionist? I like the idea of a casual disco fan stumbling upon Ralph’s 1978 LP The Path, and really getting into its conceptual side as it traces a journey, spiritually and musically, from Africa through the Caribbean to New York. It’s a hell of a record, and features a heavyweight cast including Chuck Rainey, Bob James, Gwen Guthrie, Miriam Makeba and Grover Washington. Its follow-up, the excellent Counterpoint, was rather more dancefloor-friendly with the track Discolypso giving an indication of the musical area it was having its fun in. Another Hollywood blockbuster that had its disco calypso moment was The Deep, which featured Beckett, the soca star from St Vincent, on an irresistible trackarranged by close collaborator Frankie McIntosh. I would love to be able to say my life was changed by Calypso Disco when I saw the film as a kid, but I confess Jacqueline Bisset made rather more of an impression upon me. Beckett got to release an accompanying LP on Casablanca, one of my favourite labels which released a host of classic disco sides, most notably the remarkable string of Donna Summer hits. It often confounded expectations though, with for example its Wildflowers series of recordings from New York’s Loft jazz scene which I bet has caught out a few disco neophytes who think they know their David Mancuso history. I have to admit I am not familiar with Beckett’s other recordings, and I would willingly concede that soca is bit of a weak spot for me. One record I did stumble across which made me sit up and pay attention is a collection called Rebel Soca, which has an astonishing track on it by Safi Abdullah called Afrika Is Burning. Ostensibly it’s an attack on disco hedonism: “Under screams of a boiling overdose systematically controlled by
idiots of the White House with twisted grins and stale peanuts. Africa is burning, and the Black Man is doing the Freak ”. It goes on to point a finger at party-goers and their “tight jeans and Elton John sunglasses, Pierre Cardin sneakers and a bag of smoke.” While the sermon is delivered in the finest Gil Scott-Heron tradition, ironically the music which is a glorious mix of reggae, calypso, funk, highlife and much more makes it a pretty unique disco classic itself. There seems to be ridiculously little out there about or by Safi Abdullah beyond an old compilation. There is a lot of interest in what happened when disco music met Caribbean sounds, and there are plenty of people better qualified than me to write about ‘tropical disco’.But one thing that does particularly appeal is that any ‘tropical disco’ collection or mix is likely to include tracks from beyond the Caribbean itself. The term ‘disco lypso’ itself has been adopted by Mandrill and by Bunny Mack, and used for a compilation put out by Trans Air, a label that is carving out a nice niche in salvaging lost Caribbean funk. And you’ll find ‘tropical disco’ sounds in various locations. To give a great example, Harry Mosco was leader of Nigerian afro rock outfit The Funkees who moved to London to try their luck following the success of Osibisa (and if Sunshine Day isn’t the most glorious example of ‘tropical disco’ I’ll retire hurt!).Harry went on to make some solo recordings for the Nigerian market, including the excellent early ‘80s LP Sugar Cane Baby which had a glorious Caribbean infused title track.
Many writers have tried to untangle the roots of disco, but have only succeeded in tying themselves up in knots with their references to salsa, merengue (is that an excuse to mention Les Chicas del Can?), reggae, boogaloo, samba, gospel, African rhythms and Soul Makossa. I came across a fascinating piece by Alastair Bird inThe Caribbean Review of Books, which was prompted by the re-release of Eddie Hooper’s Pass It On and Tomorrow’s Sun, in which he acknowledges: “The problem with trying to impose an elegantly simple, chronologically reciprocating, and intercultural global narrative on the evolution of musical genres such as disco and soca is that the narrative never quite fits. Contemporary influences are multiple, and the dialogue is gleefully messy; it’s rarely possible to identify where one wave of influence concludes and another begins.” If you take Caribbean sounds and ‘tropical disco’ in their loosest senses then it’s fascinating to see how influences have pinged back and forth. Even the most casual of music fans will be able to identify songs with a ‘tropical disco’ flavour: Boney M, Goombay Dance Band, and perhaps Lobo’s Caribbean Disco Show which was memorably interpreted by Legs & Co. Then there are the projects of inveterate cultural magpies Daniel Vangarde and Jean Kluger, from Le Monde Fabuleux Des Yamasuki to Black Blood to La Compagnie Creole via the Gibson Brothers and Ottawan. While disco snobs may be snooty about the popular appeal of songs like the Gibson Brothers’ Cuba and Ottawan’s D.I.S.C.O. there is no denying the pleasure they’ve brought to millions around the world, and there is a very strong case for the subversive way in which Vangarde and Kluger made Caribbean exiles famous with a mad miscegenation of musical styles which has made its presence felt worldwide, from Josef K to Bollywood. Vangarde, in particular, is one of my favourite pop figures. Among other things he is said to have been responsible for Chic working with Sheila & B Devotion and for introducing Wally Badarou to Chris Blackwell when the Island patron was putting together his Compass Point team personnel. The whole Compass Point phenomenon was a literal case of disco and Caribbean cultures colliding. Ironically, however, it is a struggle to think of examples where the
local funky Nassau sound impacted on what was being created, except perhaps if you count Monte Browne, a former guitarist with TConnection, working on the Tom Tom Club LP. And then again T-Connection had a major impact on the development of disco with Do What You Wanna Do and other classics. ___________________________ The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 9 Long, long ago when car boot sales were a relatively new phenomenon and CDs were just coming in vinyl seekers had a field day. On one occasion I can remember picking up a 50p copy of Joe Gibbs’ Majestic Dub in mint condition, with really thick cardboard sleeve and the works. I knew my hip reference points, and about the African Dubseries, so I was delighted. Eagerly anticipating some heavyweight dub excursions I put the needle on the record as soon as I got home, and suddenly out from my battered hi-fi oozed some squelchy synth straight off Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. I was rather confused. Majestic Dub is a strange old record. While most of it is orthodox dub (if you’ll excuse what should be an oxymoron) there are definite disco elements here and there and generous use of bubbling synths. These days I would probably be desperate to hear more of those disco elements, and perversely have more recently come unstuck time and time again with the way ‘disco’ as a phrase is used in reggae music. I mean, for example, if you come across a Sly & Robbie record calledDisco Dub you’d think it would be a bit, well, McFadden and Whitehead at least knowing what we know about Bits and Pieces, Boops, etc. but nah. When I think of reggae meeting disco uptown I tend to think of Third World’s Now That We’ve Found Love, Inner Circle’s Everything Is Great, and that whole late ‘70s Island, Chris Blackwell, Alex Sadkin, Steve Stanley scene. It’s easy to forget that such ‘crossover’ sounds were a bit controversial at the time. Kris Needs was one of the few journalists in the late ‘70s enthusiastically writing about punk, reggae and disco all mixed in together, but even he in a Zigzag review of Sly Dunbar’s Sly, Wicked and Slick LP expressed caution about “the preoccupation with distilled disco”.
In an interview Kris did with Jacob Miller of Inner Circle, published in the April 1979 issue of Zigzag, there is considerable discussion about making reggae for the disco market, with reference to a Peter Tosh quote about not approving of disco music as “disco means to ‘get down’ which wasn’t a good thing”. And yet that same year Peter Tosh was in Byron Lee’s Dynamic Sounds studio with Sly, Robbie, Sticky, Mikey Chung making the Mystic Man LP for the Rolling Stones’ label with its centrepiece Buk-in-hamm Palace which is just about thee definitive disco reggae recording. There is a time-honoured reggae tradition of reinterpreting the hits of the day, so it’s no surprise that long before Chris Blackwell’s masterplan was put into operation there were Jamaican takes on disco smashes. In 1975, for example, Byron Lee was redoing The Hustle and Disco Stomp. And I have to confess to being the type of person who gets irrationally excited at finding reggae disco versions of Silver Convention’s Fly Robin Fly. There’s a great one by Toney and the Sweet Bunch.Derrick Harriott did a fantastic version on his Reggae Disco Rockers LP, as did Harold Butler on his Gold Connection LP. There seems to be quite a lot of overlap between those two LPs in terms of personnel, and they were both released in the UK by Lloyd Charmers, interestingly enough. Gold Connection, in particular, seems to be a record rated by devotees of Jamaican disco reggae who have looked beyond that great Soul Jazz Hustle compilation. I confess to being a massive fan, and like the fact that it’s only the
odd track here and there that gets everything right. More knowledgeable people than me will point you in the direction of cuts like the Royal Rasses’ Unconventional People, Freak by Tapper Zukie, The Rebels’ Rhodesia, the wonderful It’s My House by Storm, and my particular favourite Hey Mister by Althea Fo(r)rest & Togetherness. And that is the Althea, yes, and quite possibly before Uptown Top Ranking on a cut she wrote with Derrick Harriott, who also produced it. The overlap between disco and reggae was touched upon in Skimming Stones, an earlier edition of Your Heart Out, which looked at it more from a British perspective, starting with the Disco Dub Band and Mike Dorane’s Island-sponsored adventures with his Rockers and Movers labels which the more I think about it seem the blueprint for what Chris Blackwell did with Compass Point. Then there is Eddy Grant, who was once so popular he almost became invisible, but if you listen back to things like his original version of Walking On Sunshine they sound phenomenal in the way he mixed up elements. That track was perhaps his most out-and-out disco moment, but it’s hardly standard dancefloor fare. Dennis Bovell may not have enjoyed Eddy Grant’s success, but he is rightly revered.I would still love to see a definitive database of his productions, but on the other hand it is fun finding them independently. So, for example, his production for his own Matumbi label of Guardian Angel’s SelfService Love is a pretty special slice of disco reggae. And his steering of I-Roy (Roy Reid) down an explicitly disco path on Whap’n Bap’n is quite simply extraordinary. Dennis Bovell’s engineer on a number of sessions was Mark Lusardi, who was another central character of that Skimming Stones edition of YHO. Mark worked on all sorts of sessions, some deep underground and some which were successful crossovers like Black Slate’s Amigo, a genuine success in charts and discos around the world. It could be argued that the UK reggae groups were able to provide perfect disco material because of versatility often acquired the hard way through years of experience doing session work and providing live support for all sorts of artists. The Reggae Regulars’ Where Is Jah?/Black Star Liner is another UK reggae 12” that springs to mind as an example of a record you’re likely to find featured on disco forums.
Among the pioneering recordings Mark Lusardi worked on was TW Funkmasters’Love Money, a project of London reggae radio show presenter Tony Williams who used contacts among the reggae community to make an early electro track. Peter Shapiro in his disco history Turn The Beat Around cites the dub of Love Money as a huge club hit in New York and the track which woke Francois Kervorkian up to “the power dub effects had over the dance floor”. Peter mentions that Kervorkian’s own experiments with dub peaked on Snakecharmer, Jah Wobble and his group’s collaboration with Holger Czukay and The Edge. Ironically, going full circle, Mark Lusardi was a long-time colleague of Wobble’s and had worked with him and Czukay (and Jaki Liebezeit) previously on the How Much Are They? EP. Wobble has mentioned how “typically, Mark Lusardi was the unsung hero on that recording. He gave it a ‘tough’ disco sound, and some nice dub touches”. Francois Kervorkian’s immortal disco reggae mixes include Jimmy Cliff’s Treat The Youths Right. His fellow champion of disco’s darker, dubbier side, Larry Levan, has similarly become more than legendary for his mixes. The ‘dubs’ of some of Gwen Guthrie’s Compass Point recordings spring to mind, like Peanut Butter, featuring Sly and Robbie etc. I think I’m right in saying that Gwen first worked with Sly and Robbie while recording with Peter Tosh in New York. She would certainly go on to feature on his classic Mystic Man set with its Buk-in-hamm Palace show stealer. _________________________ The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 10 Footage from the funeral of Austrian disco legend Kurt Hauenstein shows a massive turnout of Hell’s Angels and bikers alongside the music business greats the Supermax leader had worked with like Frank Farian of Boney M fame.Rockers Revenge was always an interesting choice of name for Arthur Baker’s activities given the image he cultivated. And yet his story is rather more straightforward than those of many of the people who were involved in the disco scene. I keep hoping to come across a definitive history of the German disco scene because I am particularly interested in the backgrounds of those involved and the different roads they’d taken to get
there. How many were refugees from the Krautrock world? How many had been members of the German big bands playing interpretations of funk and jazz? And so on. I would admit that I know very little about the pop music of Austria. I had to make a conscious effort to do some investigative work for the Anywhere But Here Todayproject, and fortunately I stumbled across the strange world of ‘Austropop’ which was wonderfully disorientating. Along the way I came across clips of the (Goethe-inspired?) Austrian disco group Ganymed which made me laugh out in delight. The music was great, in what would inevitably now be described as a ‘space disco’ way, but the performances were even better, complete with outlandish alien costumes which reminded me of the KLF. Despite the daft adopted names like Kroonk and Pulsaria the songs stand up really well, poised somewhere between prog and Eurovision, and the existence of Ganymed was enough to make Austropop worth celebrating. But then I discovered Supermax. I really had never come across Supermax or Kurt Hauenstein until recently. And I’m sure it’s not just an allergy to groups called Super-this-or-that. It’s just that our paths never crossed. The cruel irony is that I only discovered the pleasures of Supermax shortly after Kurt Hauenstein died in March 2011. Oh the shame of it, as I bet all the cosmic disco hipsters were well up-to-speed on the Supermax legend. But I was blissfully unaware of the genius of King Kurt until I saw YouTube clips of the group performing its hits Love Machine andWorld of Today which set me off on a quest to find out more. I was particularly intrigued because while it was not that unusual to have someone looking like an unreconstructed rocker on keyboards as part of a Euro disco group line-up, Supermax in contrast had such a guy stage centre looking and sounding like a refugee from Humble Pie, surrounded by some seriously funky souls, and seemingly singing about the world being full of pollution and kids taking pills and that the world’s a mess ‘cos the police are doing it too. This was clearly not your average disco fodderstomp, and I’ve been having a ball playing catch up with the Supermax catalogue. It just makes me smile that apparently the whole of eastern Europe was 30 years ahead of me.
Kurt Hauenstein may have been from Austria but like most of the greats he was a true internationalist. He moved to Germany while still young to play bass, and yes he was in Krautrock/prog outfits (e.g. Rigoni/Schoenherz) and then got involved with Frank Farian in Frankfurt where he was setting up his Boney M project which is where Kurt learned his studio skills. In 1976 he started his own Supermax project, with the Don’t Stop The Music LP from which the title track gives a wonderful indication of the mad mix of elements swirling around in the Supermax sound with a particular emphasis on African and reggae influences counterbalancing the synths and the more prog rock traits. This, and other Supermax titles, was produced by Peter Hauke, who was from a similar prog background. The Supermax reggaeinfluences became more pronounced in the early ‘80s, and Kurt being a bass player by trade perhaps helped this manifest itself in some very deep dubby excursions.Indeed any biog will mention Supermax were the first white group to play at the legendary Sunsplash festival. Beyond Supermax Kurt did get involved in some extra-curricular activity. He helped out on Bernt Mohrles’ Chilly project, but best of all was his work on the Bamboo LP which he masterminded for WEA in 1979 which is simply astonishing. He had the opportunity to produce a trio of singers from Suriname, and let his imagination run riot. He came up with an outlandish creation that’s up there with the best of Chic and Ze Records’ output. Cosmic disco exoticists no doubt drool over this LP, but it’s the slower, dubby track Hustlers of Life Will Never Survive that gets me everytime. One other project of Kurt’s that I am aware of is the London Aircraaft one from 1984, with Supermax backing singer Larry London out front, which has some wonderful electro tracks on and the rather more characteristic reggae driven Rocket in my Pocket. I guess it should also be mentioned that in more recent years Supermax collaborated with Buddha Monk of the Wu Tang Clan, which seems just about perfect really. I do wonder what my teenage punk self would have made of Supermax if I had been aware of their work in the late ‘70s. I suspect I might have struggled with Kurt’s image, which would have been pretty daft as the guy was infinitely cooler
than I could ever hope to be. And Kurt would have been pretty contemptuous of ridiculous engrained prejudices. On a more meaningful note, for example, even the first Supermax LP has the outstanding Watch Out South Africa, Here We Come. It’s not just a striking piece of antiapartheid disco stomp, there’s real menace in the delivery. And it wasn’t just an empty threat, as Supermax did tour South Africa in 1981 where controversially Kurt took the full racially-mixed entourage, defiantly becoming the first group to do so, I believe, ruffling many feathers along the way and attracting all sorts of hostility and threats. A true rocker's revenge. ______________________
solo. Zur was his first LP, but there was another one in 1984 (Zora) I believe. After that Boban seems to have published a hedonistic novel, moved to Cyprus, made billions in construction and financial trading, then moved to Marbella where he lived the jet-set party lifestyle, buying the local football team along the way, as you do.
The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 11 Zur by Boban Petrovic is a remarkable record.Released in 1981 in the former Yugoslavia, it’s one of the great blue-eyed soul/funk records.It’s undeniably very much in that immediate post-Off The Wall way of working, but it’s luxurious and strongly suggestive of the new pop gloss to come from Scritti Politti, say.Fashion’s Zeus B Held-produced Fabrique would be a good reference point, but then so would the rather later It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way by the Blow Monkeys or Shampoo Tears by Win. Predictably, I stumbled across Zur through YouTube, having chanced upon a series of videos from the LP which seemed to string together and tell a story. Zur I believe means party and that’s certainly the theme of the video sequence, with Boban at the centre looking lupine in a louche lounge lizard kind of Klaus Nomi way. The setting and tone is delightfully decadent, and the feel is very much that of an early 1981 fantasy photo-shoot for The Face, complete with Blitz/Club For Heroes clientele on a weekend away in Belgrade. You expect Martin Degville to emerge at any moment, before remembering this is supposedly the austere Eastern Europe of old and nothing this risqué or outlandish was supposed to exist there. Unlike Green Gartside in 1981 Boban Petrovic had been long steeped in black American funk and disco music. At a young age he’d started the group Zdravo who’d released some outstanding singles in the late ‘70s before Boban went
One other record I know he was involved with was Perfektan dan za banana ribe by the Yugoslavian new wave outfit Talas or VIA Talas (that’s vocal-instrumental ensemble, which is a prefix used by a lot of Eastern Europe groups). The title of this 1983 LP translates as A Perfect Day For Bananafish, which will delight the Salinger fans among us who grew up on the notion of Holden Caulfield Universal. A lot of the LP is perky Martha & The Muffins pop, but there is some great stuff on there like the more dubby, disco infused postpunk of Gorke suze L.M. (Lady Mackbet). A couple of tracks from Zur pop up on an unofficial collection, Idi, igraj!: Funk,soul, jazz funk & disco from ex-Yugoslavia 1969-1987, lovingly compiled by a certain DJ Funky Junkie. It’s an amazing insight into some of the music that was being made in Yugoslavia during that era, and more surprisingly there is very little overlap with my own fumbling and bumbling about in the music of the former Yu. I’d already been amazed at the soul/r’n’b influences that seemed so pronounced in old ‘60s recordings, like Nada Knezevic singing Garnet Mimms’ Cry Baby. But the names on this collection were new to me, with the exception of Zdenka Kovacicek who was one of the stars of the Anywhere Else But Here Today project singing Mi Volimo Soul. Zdenka has a reputation for being the missing link between Yma Sumac and Janis Joplin, and a 1978 LP she made with the Igor Savin Big Band is rightly revered. Most of the LP is funky and bluesy, but there is one totally unexpected track, the amazingElektra, where there is a real Moroder bubbling synth thing going on with Zdenka scat singing. Igor himself made his own Yu Disco Expres LP in 1979 which hassome fantastic stuff on, and is a useful reminder of how the world over the disco explosion was underpinned by the precision playing of big bands and orchestras led by the likes of Igor Savin.
Of course the opposite end of the disco spectrum was where another sort of technology came into play, with the advent of electro, rap and the birth of hip hop, which caused considerable friction throughout the disco world. Yugoslavia was no exception, and there in the early ‘80s the Master Scratch Band were pioneers of electro, and their Degout EP, released in 1984, is wonderful. I gather that they didn’t have all the technology to hand that counterparts, say, in New York might have had, so necessity was very much the mother of invention, and I suspect that improvisational spirit is what makes the tracks seem so fresh now. Before the Master Scratch Band EP was released the group had some success in the charts with Sizike, a project where they got three inexperienced singers to front a recording with rather spectacular success. It’s all very reminiscent of the Bananrama story, and indeed if that trio had recorded for Mute they would very likely have sounded like Sizike. The hit single was the electro pop wonder Don’t Stop, and it was a decidedly slinky affair. There was a fantastic accompanying LP too, but sadly the project was a one-off. I suspect this is not what people immediately think of when Balkan disco is mentioned. ___________________________ The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 12 If there is one thing that fuels the Your Heart Out adventure it’s making unexpected but entirely perfect connections. So, for example, watching a series of enchanting videos of Nazia and Zoheb Hassan on YouTube which had been posted by someone involved in their making, it suddenly occurred to me that this was the same person who’d put up the startlingly wonderful promo video of The Mo-dettes’ White Micewhich had been made in the basement of my old alma mater the London College of Printing back in 1979. These clips it turned out had been shared by David Rose, who with his wife Kathy has been involved with the making of many a pop video. There is a certain perfection to there being an explicit link between The Mo-Dettes and Nazia Hassan. Nazia’s Disco Deewane and The MoDettes’ White Mice are immaculate examples of disco inspired pop confectionary. White Mice had
an incredible impact on my world, and Disco Deewane had rather more of an impact around the world, but they are both irresistible and great examples of how elements of disco music were absorbed and used in different ways. Musically, the driving force behind Disco Deewane was Biddu, the great pop alchemist, and it must have been a sweet irony for him to enjoy a new wave of success with that record in south east Asia having left India penniless many years before to seek his fortune in the London pop world. Biddu’s genius is rooted in working in very prescribed, often proscribed, areas of music, creating art out of froth.Many of his early recordings, for example, at the start of the ‘70s were unashamedly ultra-poppy bubblegum soul sides which found favour among the less snobbish Northern Soul fans. His discography is littered with lost classics from that time, likeMelting Pot's Girl I'm Getting Hip, and cuts by acts he’d later have great success with, like Jimmy James’ A Man Like Me and Carl Douglas’ Somebody Stop This Madness. During the disco era the determined populist Biddu hit on a winning formula, and recordings with Tina Charles and his own orchestral disco excursions were huge successes. Biddu was smart enough to surround himself with people who could make his schemes come to life, like the fantastic arranger Gerry Shury who was featured in The Enormity of Small Things, an earlier edition of YHO. When Gerry tragically died in a car crash, things began to unravel for Biddu and his stable. So it was fate intervening that gave him the chance to try a new market by contributing to the soundtrack of a Bollywood film, Qurbani, in 1979. Rather brilliantly he transposed his own unique disco formula with the 15-year-old Pakistan born Nazia Hassan singing with him in London taking on the Tina Charles role singing the lovely Aap Jaisa Koi. Together they struck gold. Biddu went on to work further with Nazia and her brother Zoheb in the ‘80s. I don’t know if the presence of Zoheb softened the impact of Nazia as a controversially independent, smart and natural teenager, but the image of the two together was rather Mac & Katie Kissoon-like (a huge compliment in my book). The delightful 1981Disco Deewane LP was an extraordinary success, particularly in India. The fact that it was a couple of young Pakistan-born
Londoners turning things upside down just makes it all the more wonderfully strange. There’s a lovely passage about Nazia shattering stereotypes in the 1984 (Sue Steward/Sheryl Garrett) Signed Sealed And Delivered book on women in pop, which is highly recommended.
Beyond south east Asia Disco Deewane was a massive hit intriguingly in places such as Brazil, the West Indies and Russia. The old Soviet Union seems to have had a massive appetite for Bollywood extravaganzas, and there was a trend for some of these to be dubbed into Russian, like the evergreen 1982 blockbuster Disco Dancer.This film has a soundtrack by the Bollywood disco king Bappi Lahiri, and one of its hit songs, Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja, had a new lease of life recently when MIA adapted it. The song itself originally borrowed heavily from Ottawan’s T’Es OK, which was a bit of a feature of Bappi’s work, it seems. Even the gorgeous Come Closersung by Salma Agha, from the soundtrack of Kasam Paida Karnewale Ki, has strong suggestions of Imagination’s Body Talk. Much of what I know about Bollywood sounds has been gleaned from the superb site Music From The Third Floor, which is overseen by PC, a man of immaculate and very varied taste who has also designed the striking covers for the various YHOmixtapes. I always approve enormously of any project that is adhered to
doggedly, and there is a lot to explore among the rare and out-of-print titles on the site. The impact of MFTTF has resonated around the world from its base in Norway, and there has even been a radio show in Alaska that draws on the project’s archives. Some of the commentary on the site is as entertaining as the music, and it’s fascinating to observe how Bollywood sounds have flitted in and out of fashion in recent times, causing the value of certain titles to fluctuate wildly. Not all of Bappi Lahiri’s soundtracks get the MFTTF seal of approval, and PC is keen to draw our attention to his work before Disco Dancer. One that caught my attention was the soundtrack for College Girl, which opens with an incredible mod rave-upincorporating In a Gadda da Vida and Wild Thing that leads into the ‘tropical’ flavoured College Girl ‘I Love You’ with its Moroder/Summer references and synth motif. It’s odd hearing that now in the context of the Charanjit Singh record, Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, which created a frenzy in 2010 when it was salvaged by the Bombay Connection label, which was great as it’s an amazing record and it was great to see the label itself active again as its earlier collections are essential. TheCharanjit Singh record provoked lots of animated web chat about its use of Roland synths, 808s and 303s. As time has passed the pendulum has begun to swing another way, leading to sniffy commentators declaring that it’s interesting the record exists, of course, but it’s not significant as it didn’t actually lead to anything directly related to acid house. Tsk. One thing the reissue did lead to was a flurry of interest in whether there were other Indian recordings of a similar nature, and almost inevitably Biddu’s glorious 1982recording of Boom Boom with Nazia Hassan has been cited. It’s striking that some people were clearly coming at this from an angle where they suddenly knew more about Charanjit Singh than Biddu, which is fair enough. Recorded in London, Boom Boom was the highlight of Nazia and Zohar’s second LP, which was to be the soundtrack of the Bollywood film Star. Given Biddu’s populist tendencies it would be inevitable he’d try a Munich disco thing with Nazia. But back in 1978 he’d been mixing sitars, synths and Munich disco propulsion together on the delightfully rum
Futuristic Journey LP. And then there’s his heavily electronic production on Captain Zorro’s disco version of the theme from Phantasm, and my particular favourite the exceptional 1979 single, Voodoo Man. _______________________________ The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 13 Disco Dhol Waja is a song from the 1986 Lollywood musicalQaidi. It’s a riotous number sung by Pakistan’s ‘melody queen’ Noor Jehan,composed by Nazir Ali, and Anjuman is the star dancing madly in the clip posted on YouTube.Stripped of its context, standing alone, it’s a high energy, highly entertaining romp, as camp as hell but great fun. Noor must have been nearly 60 when she sang this number, and she had been at the top of her profession as playback singer for years and years. Nazir Ali was himself a long established composer. And Anjuman was a highly successful actress throughout the 1980s. So, this film was pretty high profile, I guess, but there seems a certain mischief at work, not least with the deeply traditional dhol drum rigged up with electric lights and emitting syndrum sounds. I have to confess I knew next-to-nothing about Pakistan’s Lahore-based film industry until the excellent folk at Finders Keepers released their The Sound of Wondercollection of tracks from the Lollywood vaults, which was a revelation. That set, covering the period 1973-1980, supplied plenty of clues about the characters involved in making these fantastic soundtracks, and almost inevitably YouTube revealed in its unique way a treasure trove of clips from old Pakistani films. The one thing that seemed to be missing was a site along the lines of Music From The Third Floorwhich would provide ready access to Lollywood soundtracks for those of us keen to explore in more detail, but life’s not perfect. Recently I came across a fascinating article, written for Granta by the novelist Kamila Shamsie about growing up in Karichi in the late 1980s, and the relationship between pop music and the political climate in Pakistan. The turning point for the teenage Kamila seems to have been the arrival of the young pop group Vital Signs in 1987 with their strangely subversive synthpop song Dil Dil Pakistan. She refers, however, to the earlier
buzz created by the success in 1981 of Disco Deewane by the Pakistan-born duo Nazia and Zoheb Hassan, and the unease the Londonbased pair’s natural glamour created among the religious right and allies of Pakistan’s military dictator, Zia ul-Haq: “These were the early days of Islamization, when the censors were confused about what was permissible. A few years later, the process of Islamization was sufficiently advanced that a video such as Disco Deewane would have no chance of airing. Although Nazia and Zoheb continued to release albums, the censorship laws and official attitudes towards pop meant they never gave concerts, received limited airtime on PTV, never released another video with the energy and sensuality of Disco Deewane, and were seen as a leftover from the days before Zia’s soulless rule sucked the life out of Pakistan’s youth culture.” Kamila doesn’t mention Pakistan’s cinema industry in her article. But the Finders Keepers collection definitely gave the impression a golden age ended with the 1970s, and the little I’d read elsewhere had mentioned Lollywood’s decline in the 1980s as it tried to come to terms with censorship and restrictions on what was allowed. So, I must admit that while I wondered about what response the success of Disco Deewane may have triggered in Lollywood I wasn’t particularly hopeful that I would readily find much of interest. Experience, however,
should have told me things are never that simple, and people will always find a way to entertain. So, inevitably, YouTube also hosts a nice store of 1980s disco-related clips from Lollywood movies.And while I happily concede these song and dance routines may well be carved from excruciatingly awful ‘exploitation’ films they are nevertheless often wonderful pieces of nonsense or high art in their own right, and I salute those involved for what they got away with. So, for example, songs from the Bidduproduced Disco Deewane were used in the 1982 film Sangdil, including my particular favourite, the pop reggae flavoured Aao na.The dancer in the film is I believe Babra Sharif, doing her best in ‘difficult circumstances’. Barbra was one of the more glamorous and resilient stars of 1980s Pakistani cinema, and she appeared for example in a series of films which were Miss this or Miss that. Again, there are some disco gems on the soundtracks of these, such as Main chand khwab sajaloon from Miss Bangkok, sung by Naheed Akhter and composed by the great M. Ashraf, names that will be familiar to anyone who has The Sound of Wonder. Miss Colombia is another film in that series with agreat M. Ashraf soundtrack. Naheed Akhter was perhaps the only playback singer in Pakistan to rival Noor Jehan, and there seem to be plenty of examples of great 1980s recordings she made with a disco flavour. My own personal favourite is a number I know as Disco Deewane Mera Naam from the film Aik Din Bahu Ka. The music again is by M. Ashraf and in this particular clip the actress dancing is Bindiya. Another Nahid Akhtar/M. Ashraf disco number that’s made a great impression upon me is the glorious Mere dil main tera dil hai from the film Saathi. This time it’s Babra Sharif dancing. Probably the best Bollywood disco number I’ve heard is Come Closer from the 1984 film Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki, written by Bappi Lahiri and sung by Salma Agha.Salma was actually from Pakistan, but she sang on Bollywood soundtracks after she and her sister made an LP of Abba covers. She later moved back to Pakistan where she acted and sang for the Lollywood industry. Ruby was one of the films she sang on, and the disco number Humsa meri jaan is fantastic, with music by Amjad Bobby.The dancer is Sabitha Perera, who I believe was the only actress from Sri Lanka who gained popularity in
Pakistani films in the 1980s. Another fantastic number from that film, sung by Naheed Akhter is Ye tanhai main aur tu. Accompanying commentary on these clips refer to films being formulaic or flops, and I accept that. But the fact that people have gone to so much trouble to extract these dance numbers and upload them to YouTube indicates they have value. On a personal level, I have a real fondness for female ensemble disco workouts from these old Lollywood films. With Noor Jehan singing and the cast doing its thing, it’s impossible not to succumb, and I have to suggest again that there really does seem to be a sense of mischief at work on numbers like Nazir Ali’s Disco Jugni Kandi Aeor Disco Che Been Wajee. It’s as if they’re saying: “Right we can’t do this or wear that, so we’ll send the whole thing up and celebrate the glorious absurdity of where we are”. Perhaps. ________________________________ The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 14 In 1978 60% of the pop hits in Japan were disco recordings, apparently. Naturally, a large proportion of these will have been international sensations. But inevitably there will have been an efficient home grown disco industry. Certainly the swish and sophistication of disco would have suited Japanese girl singers, and no doubt there are special interest groups dedicated to such sounds. I, however, wouldn’t want to be quizzed too closely about J-Disco. And searches can be hampered by what can be called the Sylvian question. Thankfully there are clues out there to be followed, leading to introductions to singers like Hiromi Iwasaki, Hiromi Ohta and Junko Yagami. I confess I can share little information about these performers, but Junko Yagami’s Wonderful City, from her 1980 LP Mr Metropolis is particularly recommended. I’m certain these names are the tip of an iceberg. Once you have a key to unlock any treasure trove there’s fun to be had and J-Disco is no different to any other area of activity. Flounder around blindly and you will stumble across unfamiliar pleasures and treasures. For example, Yoko Katori singing Going Back To China is particularly striking. Fei Fei Ouyang from Taiwan seems to have been something of a disco queen
in Japan, and I am very taken with some of her ‘70s recordings that have been posted on YouTube, especially when she’s urging us to do the Sexy Bus Stop. In another direction there are the more seriousminded jazz/funk oriented performers, and that’s a whole other gold mine to explore. But I do have a real passion for the work of the exceptional jazz singer Kamiko Kasai, who features on the YHO Lonely Clouds mixtape of Japanese sounds. Kamiko made some fantastic records in the ‘70s, working with the likes of Richard Evans in 1976 and then Herbie Hancock and his full first team on the exceptional Butterfly LP. I’ve also made a mental note to explore further among the works of Haruko Kawana and Junko Ohashi when the opportunities arise. At the other end of the disco spectrum there was the J-Pop phenomenon Pink Lady.The Japanese idols Mie and Kei took the pop world by storm in the late ‘70s with their ultra-energetic synchronised dance routines, playing up the stereotypical cute pop doll image something rotten. Watching their astonishing performances now you really can’t help but smile at the hyper surreal nature of it all. And their hit singles have pop art titles that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Davy Henderson record:Pepper Keibu, Carmen ’77, Southpaw, Chameleon Army, Zipangu, Pink
Typhoon, Monday Mona Lisa Club. They even had a degree of success in the US with the excellent single Kiss In The Dark, appearing on the Leif Garrett TV show and making a series for NBC with comedian Jeff Altman which it seems was not the happiest of experiences for the pair but oh what a lovely idea. I guess the exaggerated cartoon nature of Pink Lady is more what the West might expect from Japanese disco. And, yeah, look hard enough and you’ll find the novelty hits like Popeye The Sailor Man by Spinach Power. Of course given the fact that disco music, synthesizers and computer games were all getting into their stride at the same time, Japan’s Funny Stuff inevitably had its novelty hit Disco Space Invaders . Certainly in the late ‘70s the Space Invaders game took the world by storm, so it’s no surprise it infiltrated popular music too, from Scientist’s dub excursions to Yellow Magic Orchestra’s only UK hit. It was with the advent of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s techno pop that the more fashionable end of the UK’s music press took notice of Japanese music. The Face in particular took a close interest in developments from Japan. The Plastics, quite rightly, caught the attention with their eccentric take on pop. Unfortunately this lost something in translation when Island teamed them with Alex Sadkin. In this they were not alone, as what was a magic touch in the Compass Point studios didn’t necessarily travel well, as Vic Godard and Paul Haig might testify. Among those snippets in The Face was a particular photo of Sandii, from the Japanese pop group Sandii and the Sunsetz, which made a particular impression upon me. I think I have to say the Japanese artists of the time made more of a visual impact on me than the records did. I know, for example, that YMO protégé Susanhad a track on the NME cassette Dancin’ Master, but it would be many years before I heard more of her work, like the excellent I Only Come Out At Night from her second LP The Girl Can’t Help It, which still sounds like the futuristic disco or techno pop you would hope 1981 was harbouring. Actually it’s still pretty well hidden 30 odd years on, which is stranger still.
Sandii and the Sunsetz, too, are a group whose music I took some time to discover and who at times still sound like the future that never arrived. It would be easy to dwell on YMO associations, or the fact that Sandii and the Sunsetz may be viewed as the missing link between Blondie and Madonna. What is more interesting is that buried away on their early LPs are a number of wonderfully strange and pretty abstract tracks that would have worked wonderfully on any of the Disco Not Discocollections that were being put together some years back. I am thinking specifically of tracks like Zoot Kook and Drip Dry Eyes with their reggae/dub influences bubbling away. Sandi and the gang later took more of an explicit reggae direction, interestingly enough. And because YHO thrives on strange connections, it has to be mentioned that Babylon, a song by Sandii and Makoto Kubota (from the Sunsetz) was recorded by Akina Nakamori in the mid-‘80s. Akina also recorded some songs around that time that had been written by Biddu, including Blonde. Yellow Magic Orchestra, I suspect, will need little said about them, but it is worth mentioning nevertheless how perfectly they fit the outsiders’ view of Japan, in terms of mixing new technology smartly with pop influences from just about everywhere. It’s interesting that they were coming to pop prominence just as Japan’s own Roland corporation was increasing its influence on the world of music with its new products.And while it is normal for YMO to be mentioned in connection with the roots of techno and hip hop, it should also be mentioned how very much of the moment they were too. Their second LP, for example, Solid State Survivor is packed full with tracks that could serve as terrifyingly efficient disco hits with the right vocals welded on. When you see clips of them playing live Yukihiro Takahashi is working away with all the compulsion of Keith Forsey on any number of Munich disco classics you might care to put in a mix. But oh imagine the joy of YMO matched with a vocalist as magnificent as Ruriko Ohgami. ______________________________
The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 15 No matter how rewarding it may be exploring elsewhere, it’s good to get back home. And sometimes when you examine what’s on your doorstep you find it hard to believe the treasures hidden there. So, for example, I recently stumbled across a Marti Caine track from 1981, calledSnowbird City, which had a gorgeous disco/lovers rock thing going on. It reminded me of the Carly Simon/Chic collaboration on Why, but it seemed to be from a year or so earlier. The indications were that this was from an LP of Marti’s, Point of View, overseen by Barry Blue, which made a bit more sense. Barry may have enjoyed success as a teeny bop idol, but he was also a songwriter and producer of some stature. He was certainly no stranger to disco, having produced the early Heatwave LPs.He’d also made functional and familiar disco recordings with his fellow former Bell Records heartthrob Miki Anthony for the Bruton Music Library, including what are now much soughtafter tracks on the Disco Happening LP. Marti herself at the time would have been one of the stalwart stars of British light entertainment, a regular on TV variety shows, and a big success on the cabaret circuit with her singing, dancing and comic turns. So in a way it’s no surprise she made some disco recordings. I suspect pretty much everyone who did a bit of singing on the TV variety shows recorded some disco flavoured material in the late ‘70s or in the very early ‘80s. A lot of it is quality stuff, which sounds genuinely great now – not in an ironic or camp way because they were good singers with access to decent songwriters, musicians, arrangers, studios and session players. And the kick, swish and orchestral swing of disco suited such artists naturally. You just may not come across mentions of such sounds in the books on the history of disco. But those of us who prefer some songs by The Dooleys or The Nolans to, say, hits by Heaven 17 or ABC take a certain delight in unearthing hidden examples of ‘variety show’ disco. I guess you could call these disco recordings ‘adult oriented’, but I know that term’s been coopted by Prins Thomas & co. and refers more to the overlap between AOR and disco on US radio. This is something different. I guess very few of the tracks mentioned here were hits, and some languished as b-sides or album fillers. But there is a
distinct charm that raises the recordings to another level. While perhaps not every track featured here transformed disco in the same way as Scott Walker did onNite Flights, there is nevertheless much to celebrate. The disco phenomenon certainly gave the old school Brit girls a new lease of life.Tucked away on a 1977 b-side, for example, is a gorgeous Cilla Black recording ofKenny Lynch’s Keep Your Mind On Love. The track was produced by Mike Hurst, and his old colleague Dusty Springfield also made a magnificent disco recording in 1979, Baby Blue, which just about reached the very bottom reaches of the charts. In 1983 Kenny Lynch, incidentally, had his own eyebrow-raising delayed disco smash with the astonishing Half The Day Is Gone And We Haven’t Earned A Penny. Lulu it could be said had a little more of a disco pedigree than most of her variety show contemporaries, having worked with Kenny Nolan at Chelsea in the mid-‘70s, and getting a hit with Take Your Mama For A Ride. Towards the end of the decade she may have been a fixture on light entertainment circuit, but she did also make a great LP, produced by Elton John for his Rocket label. Among the highlights of this lost LPis Nice And Slow, which was one of the tracks from Elton’s 1976 Thom Bell sessions which were ‘shelved’ for many years, oddly. If you were going to generalise about variety show disco then you might mention a mature singer having a whale of a time dancing their way through the number thoroughly enjoying the company of a group of dancers of the opposite sex trying not to look too ridiculous. Something for everyone, you might say. Hunt around on the internet, and you’ll find a particularly fine example of this featuring Clodagh Rodgerssinging Your Love Is Deep Inside of Me. Others of, shall we say, a similar vintage managed to keep it a little more ‘real’ like Elkie Brooks with a gloriously sophisticated take on soft disco with tracks like Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Of the new generation Lorraine Chase had a very different career trajectory to Elkie, and found fame via adverts for Campari. As a family favourite she had the chance to make a novelty disco record and eerily 'invented' Lily Allen on It's Nice 'Ere Innit, which was arranged and conducted by Roger Webb, and it shows.
There are so many great examples of ‘experienced’ pop acts naturally adapting to a disco sound, when they wanted to. ELO’s Last Train To London, Paul McCartney & Wings’ Goodnight Tonight, Mike Oldfield with Guilty, the Glitter Band with Makes You Blind, and so on. But it was really the Bee Gees that changed the whole game with Jive Talking and everything that came after. And naturally Bee Gees connections and covers became a vital part of the adult contemporary disco equation. Australian singer Samantha Sang was blessed by the Brothers and so had a hit with the gorgeous Emotions. Yvonne Elliman had If I Can’t Have You. And Blonde On Blonde covered the Bee Gees’ Subway quite beautifully. Not to be confused with the late ‘60s prog/psych outfit, this Blonde On Blonde were Page 3 glamour models Jilly Johnson and Nina Carter, who became national treasures in their own way. Another Page 3 family favourite Linda Lusardi as far as I know didn’t make a disco record in the late ‘70s, which is a terrible shame considering her brother Mark Lusardi was at the time a pioneering engineer in the world of reggae and post-punk. What a missed opportunity! I think people forget how strange the Bee Gees’ new lease of life courtesy of disco actually was. Saturday Night Fever was such a huge phenomenon. And naturally the film inspired a number of budget copies, like the UK’s charming Music Machine. One of the stars of this very English film was Patti Boulaye, who has been credited with making it possible for a new generation of Nigerian female singers to have pop success in their own country. Patti may not have had much in the way of chart success in the UK but she became a stalwart of TV variety shows, and made some fantastic disco recordings along the way. Patti first found success in the UK on the TV talent show New Faces, as did Marti Caine. The other big TV talent show of the time was Opportunity Knocks, and a couple of its success stories would make some cracking disco recordings long after the hits had dried up. Peters & Lee, for example, released a fantastic country soul-ish disco single in 1976, called Save Me (Feel Myself A-Falling) which was co-written by Mark Wirtz. And former child star Lena Zavaroni made a great lost disco LP in 1979 which featured Somebody Should Have Told Me, a track also recorded quite perfectly by Cissy Houston.
The whole ‘variety show’ disco thing was a truly international phenomenon. Sacha Distel, for example, was a singer who often appeared on British variety shows, effortlessly exuding Gallic charm and elegance. Back home in France in 1979 he recorded the surprisingly avant garde disco number On ne peut plus se cacher. It’s up there as a slice of extraordinary French disco with Franḉoise Hardy’s J'ecoute De La Musique Saoule. Another French variety star Claude Francois worked with Biddu at the end of the 1970s, and in true Biddu fashion the tune Laisse Une Chance a Notre Amour will seem naggingly familiar, particularly to Jimmy James fans. This French disco milieu it should be remembered is one from which Sheila & B Devotion stepped to record Spacer with the Chic Organisation, and the French girls adapted well too, as France Gall demonstrated particularly well. Incidentally our own Petula Clark recorded some very nice French disco in the late ‘70s. There will be many more examples of ‘variety show’ disco. One particular favourite is a fantastic if lost Twiggy single from 1978, called Falling Angel, which David Essex arranged, produced and co-wrote. Now David was always a bit of an
enigma who played around with his image, and his relationship to disco was a bit ambivalent. He recorded a great track called I Don’t Wanna Go To The Disco which I am pretty sure you could convince people is a great lost Ian Dury & The Blockheads recording. But then pretty much concurrently David recorded the theme for the film Silver Dream Machine which is pretty much the pinnacle of inventive MOR disco, and indeed Scars, the Edinburgh group, realised this and did a pretty much concurrent cover. Twiggy is more usually associated with country/MOR sounds, but rather wonderfully she did make an LP in 1979 which was produced by (her then new friend) Donna Summer and Juergen Koppers in Hollywood. Munich disco legends Keith Forsey and Harold Faltermeyer are among the musicians who worked on the sessions. This was at the time when the Munich stalwarts were moving to the US and adopting more of a rock sound. The LP itself was strangely ‘shelved’ for the next 30 years. It does at least help explain why Twiggy featured prominently in the video for Donna Summer’s Bad Girls. Of course by then the world was in the grip of disco.
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