... your heart out
... for dancers
“Lounging about in a suitably insouciant fashion but keeping an eye open all the time you could really catch life on the hip – you could harvest all the aperçus of the flâneur ..” -Julian Barnes, Metroland With the return of the enforced if constructive loaf in these darkest of days we should celebrate those who seek to enlighten and illuminate. I have, for example, the utmost respect and affection for the online jazz community that has done such a fantastic job in hosting sites and pages dedicated to specific labels: CTI, Muse, Black Jazz, MPS, Strata East, and so on. I recently came across an online shrine to Mainstream Records, and in particular its 300 series which is much revered by jazz connoisseurs. The site itself is called The Shad Shack in honour of the label’s founder Bob Shad, one of the great jazz mavericks and all-round music business visionaries. He had, for instance, in the ‘50s formed EmArcy Records, an offshoot of Mercury, which will always have a place in my heart for its Sarah Vaughan titles, and in particular her work with Clifford Brown, and its Helen Merrill releases, particularly the gorgeous With Strings.
feature Ebb, Hebb and Webb. Ebb as in Maybe This Time from Cabaret. Hebb as in Bobby who contributed a holy trinity of tracks. And Webb as in Jimmy whose Keep It Hid kicks off proceedings in fantastically passionate fashion, and that’s Keep It Hid as in the irresistible Supremes/Jim Webb set from the same year. I don’t know much about Alice Clark. I don’t even know if she made any other LPs. But this record needs to be heard, by hook or by crook. And there are days when it seems this is all you ever need to listen to ever again.
Mainstream itself covered a lot of ground as a label in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but the emphasis throughout the 300 series is very much on jazz in all its shades of blue. Nevertheless its most significant release was very much on the soul side, for in 1972 Shad’s label put out the eponymous Alice Clark LP and records just do not come any better. I can still remember the first time I heard Alice Clark on a cassette a friend had put together of mod/soul related sounds. Alice Clark’s You Hit Me Right Where It Hurt Me was on there along with the Marvelows, the Riot Squad and The Action. Fantastic stuff. I haven’t stopped dancing yet.
I don’t think Mainstream put out too many soul related recordings. I know the 300 series catalogue includes a couple of Maxine Weldon titles which are brilliant, and have a very strong jazz feel, and if you like Marlena Shaw’s work you would love these. I know of a beautiful Ellerine Harding release, which has been given a Japanese reissue, and if you like the Doris Duke/Swamp Dogg thing then this is very much worth seeking out.
Yet nothing prepared me for the Mainstream LP when I finally got to hear it. Rightly revered by connoisseurs, it is deep soul sure but there’s a looseness and rawness in the arrangements that is something special. It’s been noted elsewhere the writing credits
Mainstream did however put out quite a bit of vocal jazz, and in the early ‘70s Sarah Vaughan was reunited with Bob Shad for a fantastic series of recordings just when it seemed as if the times might have passed Sassy by. As if! Sarah’s A Time In My Life on Mainstream is wonderful, but it’s the collaboration with Michel Legrand that you need to hear. It’s just gorgeous, as are many of her ‘later’ recordings.
Ruth Brown was another singer who Mainstream had on the label, but I think Softly from 1973 was a reissue, rather than a follow up to her Gabor Szabo set. It hardly matters. Softly is proof that the old adage about certain singers being able to make a shopping list come to life and sound heavenly is a truism. Anyone who can make me melt by singing On The Good Ship Lollipop or Whispering Grass (yes, that one!) is going to have a special place in my heart. It just shouldn’t work. But oh how it does. If you’re serious about your jazz then Mainstream will have something for you. My particular favourite at the moment is Frank Foster’s The Loud Minority, which is one of those titles you see cited by those in the know, but typically remains the preserve of collectors with too much money. And we’re from the John Lydon school of thought that says music’s for listening to, and sharing, not for shutting away in a cupboard. So seize any opportunity to hear this record. It’s as free as any Impulse! title, and the title track is as fierce and fiery as they come. Dee Dee Bridgewater’s performance on the title track is particularly striking on as powerful a piece of protest music as you’re ever going to hear. One of the more interesting Mainstream related stories I’ve stumbled across is the one behind the recording of Afrique’s Soul Makossa, and how in 1972 Manu Dibango’s original of the title track had fired so many imaginations and arguably kicked off the whole disco thing.
The track which had been recorded in France by a Cameroon born jazz musician, became a big favourite of New York DJs, and a whole host of outfits promptly jumped on the bandwagon. These opportunists included a number of Mainstream’s jazz pool such as Charles Kynard, Joe Kelso, Paul Jeffrey and Chuck Rainey, who took it all one stage further by putting together a whole LP of ultra-funky instrumentals, which they duly put out as Afrique’s Soul Makossa. On a vaguely related note back in France producer Jean Kluger would become involved with an African funk/disco act, Black Blood, and they would go on to have a hit with A.I.E. A Mwana, an adaptation of an old song Kluger had written with partner Daniel Vangarde for another very different project a handful of years earlier. The group would go on to record an LP for Mainstream in 1975, and if you get the chance to hear it then you’ll find it’s one of the best things you’re ever going to hear. The Black Blood LP is completely infectious too, though anyone looking for authenticity should perhaps steer clear. It was nevertheless very much a sign of things to come, and could be held up as the missing link between Manu Dibango/Hamilton Bohannon and Ottawan/Gibson Brothers. It may also make you think of Orange Juice’s Hokoyo, but that’s another story.
We’re all oh so wise now, listening to Black Devil Disco Club and the Moonbirds. And yet all this wonderful music was new to me, which is the point. With young kids sitting watching Arthur Russell DVDs and listening to their Dinosaur L reissues, it must create a sense that this is what the world was all about at the start of the ‘80s. Would that it were. I would have been very surprised if Orange Juice knew about Arthur Russell, Walter Gibbons, Tom Moulton, Larry Levan, and so on. Rather the disco inferno burning away at the heart of Postcard Records was a pure populist one. A populist one that nevertheless was a supposedly forbidden sound at the height of the punk explosion. Pah!
Some things just stick in the mind. Like in I think 1978 a friend went to buy the Vibrators’ Automatic Lover single. When he got home, inside the admittedly neat pic sleeve was a copy of Dee D Jackson’s contemporaeneous Eurodisco hit of the same name. I remember thinking: “And the problem with this is?” I didn’t even know then there was an accompanying charmingly conceptual Cosmic Curves LP! It is strange how things do stick in the mind. I can recall a review in The Face of Orange Juice’s Rip It Up LP. Where the OJs’ more shall we say dancefloor orientated moments were sneeringly dismissed as being still too much like Ottawan. Once again I remember thinking: “And the problem with that is?” I always like to think Edwyn, Malcolm & co. were thinking the very same thing. Edwyn would after all later tell the world that the lyrics of Intuition Told Me So (pt 2) were borrowed from the Spanish vocal duo Baccara, where the ‘black roses’ sing their Yes Sir I Can Boogie, and it goes: “Already told you in the first verse, and the chorus …”. One of the great enduring moments of Eurodisco. The OJs’ lost soul James Kirk would much later call his sole solo LP You Can Make It If You Boogie, and sing about how over elaboration is his curse so he’ll simplify this verse and talk about a time and place where things were bad and it could get worse. Oh I love that record. Like many others I’ve been having a great time with the flood of cosmic disco and italo disco reissues.
The crossover between punk and disco has at various times been under the spotlight, and ordinarily the focus switches to a downtown NYC loft space. But from a UK underground pop/garageband perspective the first punk/disco single was Adult/ery by Scars, a glamorous Edinburgh group on the great Fast Product label. These young antagonists had been to see Saturday Night Fever and thought hey ho let’s go disco. Adult/ery was one side of the greatest debut single of all time. The flipside had the greatest guitar sound ever, but this one was as Dave McCullough rightly pointed out The Fall meets the Bee Gees. It came out in March 1979, and at the same time John Lydon was listening to the Bee Gees to pick up tips for PiL. More attention is normally focused on things like the Pop Group and the Gang of Four. But somehow when they are mentioned in relation to funk and dub it’s as though these are slabs of certainty and thus as unedifying as tomes of semiotics or Marxist theory are in reality. Disco on the other hand somehow seemed to be about abandon and mischief, which is more appealing. Disco too could be great pop, which was the point. It’s why quite rightly Garry Mulholland’s This Is Uncool collection of the 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk and Disco starts with Anarchy In The UK and Car Wash. Some things really do stick in the mind. Or sometimes a memory that you wonder whether you’ve created does. I choose to recall sometime in the summer of 1977 Geoff Travis of Rough Trade reviewing the new releases in the music weekly Record Mirror, and making The Jam’s All Around The World and Donna Summer’s I Feel Love joint singles of the week, and almost apologising for being a new wave disco fan. Not for the last time I would wonder what on earth he was on about. It seemed only appropriate that both these singles should be cherished.
At that time The Jam would perform All Around The World on Marc Bolan’s children TV show. It would be an epiphany for many. For many that was where punk started. Tragically a few weeks later Marc would be killed in a car crash. His partner Gloria Jones would be at the wheel. The same Gloria Jones irrevocably associated with the Northern Soul scene that begat Pye Records’ cash-in Disco Demands series, featuring Maxine Brown’s One In A Million and the Javells’ Goodbye Nothing To Say. Then, at the peak of punk’s impact, one of the few disco evangelists in the media was Danny Baker from Deptford fun city. In the pages of the New Musical Express and Zigzag he would make the case for Earth, Wind & Fire and the Village People. In Zigzag too editor Kris Needs was a big disco fan, and would later compile a hugely influential list of 50 greatest disco moments for the magazine Jockey Slut which would be closely pored (pawed?) over. Now, oh there’s been reams written about disco. In depth studies of the origins, the sounds, the personalities, the clubs, the politics, the technology. Who cares? People have been dancing since the year dot. The thing is the Saturday Night Fever phenomenon was all around us in 1978. The Bee Gees’ music was everywhere. And it was hard not to absorb it. Somewhere along the way Paul Research and his fellow Scars would see the movie and think yeah! Hence Adult/ery. And that song would trigger all sorts of explosions. At the same time it appeared Sister Sledge were releasing He’s The Greatest Dancer. And The Pop Group were releasing She’s Beyond Good And Evil. What more do you need to know? Somewhere in Scotland, where people were taking notice, things started happening. They would take that Adult/ery single, add in the clangour and language of Subway Sect, the rhythm guitar propulsion of the Velvet Underground and Chic. A musical revolution was underway. Postcard Records. Orange Juice and Josef K. The only show in town for a while. Scars of course were not the only underground group of the punk era to pick up on the disco thing. Others would follow their rough and tumble. Fellow Fast folk The Flowers would sing about the disco experience in (Life) After Dark. Delta 5 would have two bass players to add bounce to their sound. Manicured Noise realised the potential of disco (speaking of which check out the new disco re-edits that are available now!). The Mo-Dettes made one of the great disco records in White Mice. Ze was on the horizon.
And in the real world Blondie had their Heart of Glass and Ian Dury and the Blockheads did the crossover thing better than anyone. Ah but the Blockheads were of a different generation, and seasoned pros who had paid their dues and could turn their hand to anything. No, we’re talking here about young punks. Young punks like Orange Juice who were very much taken with the imperious Chic Organisation, and its precision engineering disco works which were fantastically smooth, sleek and sophisticated. The Chic production work, too. The alchemical way they made magic for Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, and Sheila (and B Devotion). Ah that Spacer track. “Oppression he hates …”. There was a famous Orange Juice quote about how they wanted to sound like a cross between She’s Beyond Good And Evil and Spacer. Somehow Orange Juice had too much bounce for the Chic thing, though. Too much esprit, flippancy, or gaucherie. They were perhaps closer to the vim and vigour of disco’s more playful European cousin. And there was a certain perverse delight to be had in this. The way it felt rather rebellious to profess to being a fan of Abba, Baccara or Boney M. Not that I feel any need to apologise nowadays for loving Boney M doing, say, Belfast or Rasputin. The sheer universality of their music seemed strangely subversive back then. They were after all a rocker’s revenge (or a mod’s if you consider the covers of The Creation’s Painter Man, Bobby Hebb’s Sunny, the Yardbirds’ Still I’m Sad, and The Smoke’s My Friend Jack!).
So sneering snobs might have looked down their noses at Boney M. Or at Ottawan bouncing around singing D.I.S.C.O or Hands Up Give Me Your Love. But Ottawan, oh they were irresistible. Insanely infectious. Bouncing, bubbly bass. Choppy rhythm guitar. And all sorts of ethnic flourishes. Brother and sister style Caribbean couple seemingly singing songs that were the dumbest and most artful things outside of the Ramones’ Sheena Is A Punk Rocker or Rockaway Beach. Out and out bubblegum. But why not? It never hurt Kasenatz and Katz. Incidentally have you heard Julie London sing Yummy Yummy? Brrr … The Kasenatz-Katz type team behind Ottawan was Daniel Vangarde and Jean Kluger. Vangarde interests some as he sired a Daft Punk. Now my parents landed up with a daft punk, but this one was Thomas Bangalter of whom some will have heard. Anyway Vangarde is a lot more interesting than that. He perhaps pointed Chic in the direction of Sheila, for which we will be eternally grateful. Some years before the pair had been involved in the brilliantly bizarre Le Monde Fabuleux Des Yamasuki mock Chinese choreography piece which has a cult following for its ultra-heavy beats, fuzzed guitars, and children’s choir phonetically performing a faux Chinese libretto. Fantastic stuff, which can be heard again due to the salvage work of Andy Votel. One song from this work would mutate into the song Aie A Mwana via Black Blood which Bananarama covered and made sound like Ottawan on a bad day. The more you look the more it seems Vangarde’s a conceptual genius and cultural tourist to give Malcolm McLaren and Bill Drummond a run for their money. His fingerprints are all over French disko certainly. Disco Bouzouki Band. La Compagnie Creole. And maybe most importantly the Gibson Brothers, the Martinique outfit that were phenomenally successful in France and right around the world. Vangarde and Kluger wrote and produced some of their biggest hits, including the wonderful Cuba, which inspired the version of Sorry For Laughing that Josef K recorded for Crepescule. Again, the cognoscenti could start sniggering at this stage, but that’s to underestimate the impact such Afro/Latin/Caribbean flavoured disco had in places outside the US/UK axis, just as reggae and hip hop are universal now. Another person to take note of Cuba was Chris Blackwell who invited the keyboardist on the track, Wally Badarou, to become part of his Compass
Point revolution. Badarou had also appeared on another record that caught Blackwell’s imagination, this being M’s Pop Musik where in a brilliant act of one-upmanship Talcy Malcy was outdone by his old college comrade and (oddly fine folk singer in his time, making an admirable record with Mighty Baby at their moonlighting best) Robin Scott in a brilliant piece of portentous performance art. Anyway Badarou would become a core player in the series of revolutionary recordings made at Compass Point, appearing with Sly and Robbie and Steve Stanley on those Grace Jones records, for example. Badarou also was an integral part of the Mambo Nassau record by Lizzy Mercier Descloux, which he particularly loved for its African influences. Oh those Compass Point records. Serge Gainsbourg. Tom Tom Club. And Ian Dury’s outrageously overlooked Lord Upminster, where he was reunited with Chas Jankel, though Sly and Robbie replaced the Blockheads rhythm section. Not Dury’s finest words, but the music is fiercely funky. The funny thing is that Chas Jankel is the closest thing the new wave came to having its own (albeit one man) Chic Organisation. Not that I realised it at the time. Sadly, no. It’s only rather recently I have become aware of the quartet of fantastic LPs he made in the first half of the ‘80s. Oh I knew he was the Blockheads’ musical director, and that their music was a frustrated funkateer’s revenge, and they were never the same when he sauntered off after Do It Yourself. And I knew Quincy Jones had a worldwide hit with Chas’ Ai No Corrida. I knew Glad To Know You was very big in disco-not-disco circles and early ‘80s New York clubs. But I missed those LPs. Those four LPs which contain quite possibly the most forward thinking, slick, sophisticated jazz, funk, disco, latin, whatever mix, with some interesting associations like the close Dury/Blockheads involvement on Chasanova, and the strong Tom Tom Club/funky Nassau influence on Chazablanca, with Laura Weymouth very much involved, and Steve Stanley engineering. The funny thing is I can’t have been the only one not paying attention or I’m sure Jankel would have been roped in for production duties on various post-punk projects. What a waste! It’s actually interesting the role played in disco by experienced songwriting or production teams, particularly people who had been round the block a fair few times. Norman Whitfield with Rose Royce, for example. The Bee Gees, of course. Though it is too easy to overlook their songwriting prowess.
And if you’re considering disco you just have to mention the fantastic series of hits put out by Odyssey, like Use It Up Wear it Out, Native New Yorker, and If You’re Looking For A Way Out, which came from the pen of Sandy Linzer, a real legend in Northern Soul circles for the recordings he worked on with Denny Randall and Charlie Calello like The Toys’ A Lover’s Concerto and Attack, the Invitations’ Skiing In The Snow and What’s Wrong With Me Baby, and Johnny Johnson & the Bandwagon’s Breaking Down The Walls of Heartache. What a pedigree!
socio-protest songs with 4Hero) as the last days of disco.
The Odyssey sound was a fantastic variation on the disco template, with the warmth of the Lopez sisters’ vocals and some Caribbean touches, which apparently was undervalued in the US. The real exception to the Linzer litany is Inside Out, the final big hit in the UK for Odyssey in 1982. In This Is Uncool Garry Mulholland links this with Shalamar’s Night To Remember (a beautiful song featuring Jody Watley who I most recently heard singing
There is a brilliant line in Inside Out that goes: “Like the words here in this song we’ll go on and on with our love ...”. I have a vision of Edwyn Collins somewhere nodding approvingly, if a little enviously, during the recording sessions for Rip It Up. But at least Orange Juice did get their place in the sun, ripping it up on Top Of The Pops with the studio audience dancing away like it was Ottawan or something.
He quite rightly highlights the peculiarity of the gorgeous Inside Out being written by Scottish warrior Jesse Rae, who would later gain On-U credentials, where if I remember rightly some of his songs were sung by Bernard Fowler of the Peech Boys. Interestingly Inside Out was produced by Jimmy Douglass, no doubt using experience picked up working on Marquee Moon and the Gang of Four’s Solid Gold.
I have a weakness for the Father Brown detective stories of GK Chesterton. I have often thought that the little priest’s subversive unobtrusiveness and shrewdness must have been the inspiration in part for John le Carré’s George Smiley, another of my literary heroes. Anyway, if I remember rightly, in the first of the Father Brown stories the head of the Paris police is on the trail of the great criminal Flambeau, and our little priest is doing his best to help by leaving clues of oddness along the way as signposts. I’ve felt a bit like that being on the trail of Georgia Anne Muldrow, ever since my first encounter with her. That would have been via the Olesi: Fragments of the Earth LP, which I bought, trusting to instinct, without even hearing, partly due to the striking not-of-these-times cover and partly due to the Stones Throw connection. Has instinct ever been more unerringly right? Has a record ever started in such a dramatic way? “Murderer! Damager! Human life left alone to die …” The same song ending … “there’s a freedom in the water that they don’t know … listen child don’tcha know … it’s just my natural ebb and flow.” Was there ever a clearer sign that the future starts here, with the children of Alice Coltrane and Jay Dee? I couldn’t stop playing Olesi, and found there was an earlier EP, The Worthnothings, which proved this wasn’t a trick of the shade, and a unique sound was evolving. The next sign that hip hop was taking a giant leap forward was the Georgia alter ego, Pattie Blingh and the Akebulan Five’s Sagala EP which came out on London’s Ramp Recordings, and sounded like nothing else, except perhaps Georgia Anne Muldrow, so by this time it was clear we had among us a visionary doing something extraordinary as a producer, as a musician, as a singer, as an MC, with so much going on in those swirls of sound. So, we were officially on Georgia Anne Muldrow watch, searching for more signs of oddness. The signs of oddness I spotted included a series of collaborations on Wildchild’s exceptional Jack Of All Trades, a record that I certainly would have missed out on were it not for the GAM connection. That would have been a shame. For it’s a definite nod in the direction of the hip hop age d’or as in pure class, consciousness, articulateness, which would appeal to anyone with a soft spot still for Gang Starr, Native Tongues, Hieroglyphics, and so on. The guest appearances were so unmistakably
Georgia, which is significant in an increasingly and homogenous
Then came Georgia’s appearance on Master Teacher from Erykah’s New Amerykah, which I genuinely thought would set the world on fire, capture everyone’s imagination, and propel Georgia to world superstardom as the girl who looked at Erykah and Lauryn and went way further. Instead she seems to have become increasingly contrary and has seemingly burrowed deep into the underground, into the abstract, thankfully throwing out clues along the way. Clues including a couple of mixtape style excursions with kindred spirit Dudley Perkins, with a certain element of mixtape culture playfulness but so many serious signs of invention and intention, more than sufficient signs of obduracy and spirituality to make these absolutely essential. The Message Uni Versa set is great but the Beautiful Mindz set, produced by London DJ 2Tall, is the one you need. It’s a unique record. Literally. It plays differently, or not at all, depending on the machine I use. Maybe I have a faulty copy, but I like its awkwardness. It’s become clear Georgia (and Dudley) have been moving more and more towards the otherworldliness of Sun Ra, Parliament/Funkadelic, Herbie Hancock, Divine Styler, and so on, with lots of references to the mothership, cosmic this-andthats, and earth’s self-destruction, and all the while the beats becoming more fractured, the funk (fonk) more fractious and defiant, the swirl of sound more frayed yet rich like frangipane. And it was equally clear I wasn’t the only one with Georgia on my mind. Not judging by the number of times Georgia’s tracks appeared in the more adventurous DJ mixes. Nor judging by the emerging influence Georgia seems to have had on new and wonderful records working in that disconcerting and disorientating domain by Eric Lau, Stacy Epps, Oddisee, Muhsinah, Brittany Bosco, and hopefully many others I’ve yet to hear.
Georgia’s co-conspirator Dudley Perkins was meanwhile breaking cover with a new record as Declaime, once again for the London label Ramp Recordings. Now I need to confess that I was aware of Dudley Simpson as a stalwart of the hip hop underground, but I was not familiar with his work. My loss. Astormsacomin’ is just such a great record. And not just because I am totally biased on account of the very significant Georgia Anne Muldrow presence throughout the album. What I like about the underground survivors is that even when they’re talking out about universal love, inner peace, and all sorts of spiritual matters there’s a toughness there which I suppose is necessary if you’re going to keep plugging away without ever taking the easy option. The Georgia and Dudley (the best combination since Brigitte Fontaine and Areski?) spirit of independence is symbolised by the way they have established their own network or context for their own projects and those of their kindred spirits at ePISTROPHIK PEACH SOUND. There is a bit of a peach thing going on here, as Georgia had a fantastic track called Killa Peach on the From LA With Love compilation. Anyway, fish around and you’ll find a blog, perhaps a podcast (look for the Georgia produced SomeOthaShips podcast, Modular Lovedrum Safari, which lives up to its title, and is an absolute treat), and a label. The most recent release on ePISTROPHIK is Eagle Nebula’s Cosmic Headphones, one of the most joyous and uplifting sets of hip hop since the Native Tongues got us all walking funny. That’s one of my acid tests. Does the hip hop make you walk funny? I remember a review saying that about a Weatherall
remix of Espiritu, and some things just stick in your mind. Anyway, one of the Eagle Nebula tracks is a bit of a Do You Believe In Magic/It Will Stand for hip hop. Works too. Strangely enough. In the context st of 21 century rap Eagle Nebula is seriously strange, as in colourful and positive, and all the better for it. Eagle was previously heard on the Pattie Blingh track Rebel Youth With Skill telling us how a long time ago she stopped asking why, found trust in the vibration and universal law, stepped up the game and never let the fist fall. There’s a lot of love on Cosmic Headphones, and when she says “like I said in the last verse and in the chorus” in The Daily Debut you just want to punch the air with joy. There’s a neat story of an eBay store in Ether Cash, and the track Street Shine reminds me of the poetry of Jayne Cortez and her Celebrations and Solitudes on Black Jazz. And there’s the music and production of Georgia which makes it absolutely essential anyway. Where to go next? What signs of oddness will show up next? The ways of things are positively labyrinthine now. A track Lavender Blue on a 7” with Georgia singing over a track by talented French producer Yann Kesz, while on the flip Yann Kesz’s companero Lorett Fleur sings on the track P.O.A. with a guest appearance by rapper and underground stalwart LMNO who himself recently had a preview CD Let'eMkNOw out featuring Georgia Anne Muldrow producing a few tracks (and you can tell which) and Yann Kesz producing a few, with Piece of Art (P.O.A.) featuring Lorett Fleur popping up again. Lorett meanwhile has been working with Eagle Nebula, and so it goes ...
One thing I liked was how the Mo-Dettes’ main strength perhaps worked against them. That is, their sound and persona was unique. But perhaps it was too POP to be taken oh so seriously by the po-faced academic/art elite and yet they had a bit too much EDGE for the glossy pop market.
I’ve written a lot of words in my time. Strangely very few of them seem to have been about the Mo-Dettes. I somehow always assumed everyone already knew about them. Then when I realised they weren’t being worshipped in the right way as part of some widely accepted and rarely challenged re-examination of all the punk repercussions I thought oh well I might as well wait until the world catches up with an eventual reissue of the MoDettes back catalogue. And so Cherry Red has at last put out an expanded version of the Mo-Dettes’ 1980 The Story So Far LP as part of its relentless and remorseless reissue production line. With so many dusty corners of the punk era delved into it is intriguing that it’s taken nearly 30 years for The Story So Far to reappear, though I have no idea of the reason behind this. Something to do with the Deram label perhaps? Maybe it’s just coincidence, but I know the excellent TV21 Thin Red Line LP released on Deram at around the same time similarly has yet to see light of day. Regardless of the availability of their back catalogue, it is intriguing that the Mo-Dettes have not received the credit they are due, and it will be interesting to see how the reissue changes things. I have to confess I’ve not seen the salvaged work, so I’m not sure what story is told in the sleeve notes, and whether they will contradict or support my thoughts and fond memories. I know some of the reviews I’ve seen seem confused about quite where the Mo-Dettes fit in with what are becoming accepted notions of what went on beyond punk. The Mo-Dettes never fitted in. And that’s ahem the bitter truth.
The Mo-Dettes’ sound is hard to pin down and, who knows, perhaps that’s why I’ve shied away from trying to write them up. The striking thing still is how the sound is carried by the bass and drums, but not in an obvious funk/reggae way. No, the bass and drums seem to carry the melody more than anything, with the guitar working in the same way as on all those wonderful old Afrobeat/highlife/juju whatever records you are occasionally lucky enough to find posted on blogs by people who can’t resist sharing their delight at finding a battered old Nigerian LP on a market stall much to the bemusement of the seller. Not as in sounds like, that much, but the sort of snaking, weaving way the guitar works. Not dissimilar in a funny kind of way to what Martin Bramah did with the early Fall or Keith Levene did with PiL. Actually if anything the Mo-Dettes’ sound could be described as early PiL meets say Reparata and the Delrons or Goldie and the Gingerbreads. I guess in the same way the NAME worked for/against the Mo-Dettes. I liked it. I would. It was funny - word associations with mode/more debts - BUT they must have got so fed up with the mod interpretation in the midst of one of the strangest eras of youth cults/tribal warfare. I’m sure that it helped to get the group some attention, but it must have stopped them being taken as seriously as some of their contemporaries on Rough Trade were. In exactly the same chauvinistic way mod related groups like the Purple Hearts struggled to get people to see past the haircuts and hush puppies and realise that some of the sharpest and brightest pop was being created. It wasn’t just tribalism though. It was a regional thing. With attention flitting from Leeds to Manchester to Liverpool to Glasgow to Sheffield it reached a ridiculous situation where a London group was facing overwhelming odds if they didn’t really fit in with the Rough Trade inner circle. There were certainly groups like the Decorators, Lines, Idiot Dancers who suffered from this situation. It still seems absurd that the Mo-Dettes can be lumped in with a number of other groups (many of whom I love, but ...) with whom they have little in common other than gender. That must have been so frustrating too, and a lot of unnecessary rivalry must have been generated. And more schisms were the last thing needed at the time when it already like a Monty Python movie with different factions falling out rather than working together and supporting one another. And then there was the image thing. Photo shoots for The Face. An off-the-wall glamour, mixed with a toughness or girl gang thing. In a 1960s French new wave film that would have been spot-on, and Swiss singer Ramona would have adored in the same way as say a Jeanne Moreau or Anna Karina.
At the start of the '80s though things could be confusing. I was desperately in love with Ramona when I was 15/16 and felt as guilty as sin about it, which seems rather ridiculous now, but there was a certain sense of oh I don’t know, treading on egg shells or something, as though I would be detracting or distracting from the inventiveness. But Ramona was a fantastic singer and performer. The strange mixture of harshness in the accent and mystery in the bearing. Achieving that look through thrift shop chic. Like someone strangely out of time and place. Times plays tricks. How do I feel about The Story So Far now? I love it perhaps even more now. The production is oddly low-key which stops it from sounding dated. The roughness is perhaps a little surprising when you consider so many groups’ experiences with major labels, and you think of the mess all those oh so highly regarded Leeds groups got into, for instance. The producer on The Story So Far was Roger Lomas, who perhaps is not everyone’s idea of a name producer. Though he was probably the hottest thing around at the time, with his Two Tone associations. He had played on the original Selecter track, with Neol Davies, that appeared on the flip of The Special AKA’s Gangsters, and had gone on to produce both Selecter LPs which are as rough as hell, as well as the Bodysnatchers. It needs to be pointed out that Lomas had been a member of The Sorrows during their Italian exile, as if you need an excuse to mention the Sorrows. Perversely Lomas would turn his back on opportunities to produce many top groups to concentrate on producing Bad Manners. Can a case be made for Bad Manners being the successful irrationalist strain that can be found in the works of people like Steve Beresford? Certainly a case can be made for Walking In The Sunshine being a gorgeous, uplifting pop song. The same snobbishness that could preclude people loving something like Walking In The Sunshine could also result in dismissive shrugs at the Mo-Dettes’
cover of Paint It Black as their first major label single. And yet soundwise it’s incredibly inventive, with June Miles-Kingston’s tribal drumming and the sheet metal Banshees style guitar adding colour in the background working with the girl group harmonies. Lyrically it’s as neat and subversive a twist on a classic theme as the Raincoats’ version of Lola. Ah yes the Raincoats. Both the Mo-Dettes and the Raincoats emerged from that same London W10/W11 underground culture bunker. Both groups had links to the Slits. Both groups had links to the Vincent Units. Both groups were well connected. Both groups’ strength came from a sort of self-education leading to a uniqueness in terms of musicianship, which worked as a positive. And it’s funny how that seemed to be taken as a given at the time (1979). And I can remember the real buzz that there was when the debut Modettes’ debut White Mice single appeared. It just seemed to capture something. The bouncing disco bass, the jagged guitar, the vocals that were more Marlene Dietrich than Joan Jett and don’t forget we were also in love with Kleenex, the photo love story graphics, the way the group dressed, the way they didn’t really fit in anywhere, but for a brief moment everyone wanted a part of them. Things moved so quickly then. I can’t even remember the final single, Tonight, coming out. My attention would have been elsewhere. Postcard or Ze or Dexys. It seems now that the Mo-Dettes fizzled out, rather like a lot of the groups from the same era. Was it sheer disillusionment with the way things were going? The strangeness disappearing. More pressure to succeed. More attention on the gloss. Rough edges being eroded. Bananarama and the Belle Stars were in the charts rather than the Mo-Dettes. But when you see the punch the Mo-Dettes packed in performance (and you can if you fish around) and realise quite how intimidating they could come across you sense why perhaps the powers-that-be considered this group a little too hot to handle.
One day I’m going to get my book published. The one I called Ra! Who? – The Art of Bluff. A Studs Terkel type oral history on the theme of when and where people from all walks of life, all over the world, heard Sun Ra for the first time, and what their immediate reaction was, working all the while on the premise there’s a lot of pretending and folks thinking they should react in a certain way. I suppose it’s only fair to give you a little insight into my own position on all this. I guess I first really heard Sun Ra via a Blast First compilation, Out There A Minute, in the early ‘90s. Oh, naturally, I’d heard of him years before, read all about him in LeRoi Jones’ Black Music, which I had on almost permanent loan from our local library as a teenager. Of course Sun Ra was often namedropped by everyone from punk/jazz types like Gareth Sager and other Pop Group escapees to hip hop and Stereolab/Tortoise types. Anyway my immediate reaction on hearing Out There A Minute was almost a Cristina/Peggy Lee one of is that all there is? It all sounded a tad tame, compared to the way out mess I was anticipating. It seemed more Basie/Esquivel admittedly wonky big band swing rather than the Ayler style excoriating holy row I was wanting to hear. Work that one out. Nevertheless over the years I have grown to love a lot of Sun Ra’s recording, though there surely can’t be anyone on the planet who can deny the hit and miss nature of his canon? Was my initial response unique? Were other people honest enough to tell the truth? Ah, you’ll have to wait for the book, or examine your conscience.
Re-reading writer Robin Tomens’ tome on jazz, Points of Departure, I tend to get distinctly jealous, particularly at his bit of one-upmanship where he writes about getting into Sun Ra back in ’82 via the Nuclear War 12” that came out on the Y label. Grrr. I don’t think I even knew Y put out Nuclear War at the time. It wasn’t a song you heard on the radio funnily enough. And I certainly didn’t know Dick O’Dell’s Y label put out another Sun Ra record, namely the Strange Celestial Road LP. Well, not until I found the Rounder reissue a while back. Lovely, lovely record. Great sleeve notes, too, by the NRBQ’s Keith Spring who quips “it’s an Ark. A Knower’s Ark”. Hmm. The NRBQ. Perhaps themselves worthy of a follow-up book called NRBQ: What Does It Mean To You? Me, I find them a totally bewildering group. I dismissed them out of hand for years as hippy nonsense, until I heard Bob Dylan play a lovely song of theirs. Since then I’ve been turning over stones to see which ones are hiding gems and which ones worms. Great records with Carl Perkins and Skeeter Davis. But some seem irritating. Yet on their first record they covered Sun Ra’s Rocket No. 9. And Eddie Cochran. I bet Dick O’Dell’s a fan. I was just thinking I don’t know that much about Dick O’Dell. I know he’s still active in the music business. I remember Guerilla Records and progressive house. But I don’t know how he came to be the Pop Group’s patron, or much about his involvement in the Pop Group/Slits meeting of minds (though he was at least partly responsible for the sound on wonderful Adventures of the Giant Slits). I do have this enduring mental image of Dick O’Dell done up in a black polo neck with a toy sax (very significant that) for a photo shoot in The Face for a special on the new beatniks. You know lots of blurb about Kerouac, Lord Buckley, hipster speak, Ginsberg’s Howl!, the birth of the cool, and so on with particular nods in the direction of Pop Group off-shoots.
Despite starting with deliberately raw and rough live/official bootlegs of the Pop Group (and you need We Are Time for the Genius and Lunatic and Trapped tracks at least) and Slits (from whence came the No More Rock ‘n’ Roll For You refrain), Y is best known for being the refuge for wayward Pop Group tributaries like Pigbag and Maximum Joy and that glorious mess of jazz, funk, ethnic sounds and punk enthusiasm. Thus, for many Y may be seen as enjoying a special relationship with New York’s 99 Records, home to Liquid Liquid, ESG etc. There did seem to be a mutually beneficial openness/cultural exchange, which saw London writer Vivian Goldman’s great Dirty Washing EP appear on 99 while NY’s fearsome percussion/performance tag team Pulsallama released a couple of singles on Y. I have strange memories of an old magazine called Masterbag which covered the UK independent music scene, and was very readable. I recall Smash Hits style pages of song words, and there being one devoted to Pulsallama’s The Devil Lives In My Husband’s Body, and these are anything but your usual song words. Great stuff. There is a fantastic Paul Dougherty directed video of the song on YouTube which needs to be seen. It wasn’t just refugees from the Pop Group that found creative space chez Y though. The cruelly underrated Shriekback was a core part of the Y catalogue, featuring former Gang of Four bassist David Allen and ex-XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews, both on the run from the treadmill of major label recording and touring. Shriekback’s early releases (‘82/’83), the mini-LP Tench and the fuller Care, reflect the new found freedom, featuring some very fine cuts of disco dub, quite spartan and supple, almost like sketches for later Prince/Cameo hits.
Dick O’Dell’s Y also provided a sort of sanctuary for some of London’s more colourful characters, strays and transgressors. Like Tymon Dogg. Strummer’s compadre. In 1982 Y released his Mickey Foote produced Battle of Wills LP (now available to listen to at his website), which gave a fresh twist to Irish/folk roots by way of Idiot Wind/Desire, all delivered with a punky sneer and brio. Hmm I wonder if anyone was watching. Around the same time Tymon was closely involved with Sandinista and Ellen Foley’s unfairly forgotten Spirit of St Louis where The Clash guys display something of a dramatic French chanson leaning. Y would also be home for the Vincent Units and splinter group the Tesco Bombers. The Vincent Units were legends of the London W10/W11 scene, led by well connected wide boy and clown prince Neal Brown, and Zigzag turned them into cult heroes without anyone really hearing them, with features like the May ’79 Robin Banks one where a list of influences includes: “Tabasco sauce, Worcester sauce, Prince Buster, draught Guinness, Roy Orbison, Huddy Leadbetter, Chuck Berry, Woody Guthrie, Converse All Stars, Sta Prest, our founder, Elvis Presley, midnight movies at the Electric, Joe Orton, medical text books, William Faulkner, Allen Ginsberg, Francis Bacon (painter), William Burroughs’ Junkie (hate everything else by him), Dostoyevsky, Sylvia Plath, Diane Arbus, Burning Spear, early Stones, early Keith Hudson”. Neal Brown didn’t take his art too seriously. He would nevertheless go on to be an art writer/historian. He would also write the introduction for Bill Drummond’s 45. Another man who didn’t take his art too seriously. Though then again. Anyway, the Vincent Units’ Carnival Song is a fantastic record, and well worth tracking down.
The whole irrationalist thing was pretty central to the world of Y. One of the main participants was Steve Beresford, who was linked to Dick O’Dell via his involvement with the Slits. Beresford is one of the more intriguing peripheral figures of the punk era, providing links to the improve/free jazz/experimental school, and in particular its sense of the ridiculous, its provocative playfulness, and the balance between high brow and high jinks. The London Musicians Collective (LMC) he was part of became very much part of the web and weft of post-punk activities, with in particular Beresford, with David Toop and David Cunningham providing valuable linkages to all sorts of things. Beresford and Toop would, for example, be very much taken with the ‘anything goes’ goonery of The Door & The Window, and they’d become involved wit the related project that was the 49 Americans’ DIY though thoroughly entertaining musical Too Young To Be Ideal. It is a bit like trying to find your way round a maze to follow quite what these LMC guys were up to, but it’s fun following leads. A good place to start is Beresford and Toop working together as General Strike and their Danger In Paradise set is a genuine classic of dub/experimentation. David Cunningham is responsible for much of the tape manipulation on that record. General Strike would also participate in Cunningham’s Flying Lizards, momentarily a success in the real world, though it’s sort of a shame the novelty hit covers are burdened with the Dadaist/absurdist labels as the Flying Lizards first two LPs are choc-stock full of important collaborations and sheer inventiveness. It’s easy to see why they are held in such high regard by for example the dub techno communities. Interestingly didn’t Cunningham contribute to the later Copy Cats covers project by Johnny Thunders and Patti Pallidin, which is in its way as avant garde as the Flying Lizards, just as Thunders singing You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory is as soulful as anything by Al Green. Beresford seems to have been a serial collaborator, and his participation in the Slits led to the opportunity to record a couple of improvisational sets for Y, with cellist Tristan Honsinger (a Pop Group collaborator too) and others. Beresford would also assist Adrian Sherwood in the recording of Prince Far I’s Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter 3, bringing a sense of the ridiculous to the proceedings. The link with Sherwood would lead to Beresford being involved with a variety of the earlier On-U outings as one of the singers and players that took things to such staggering heights (oh stop it!) on recordings by
the New Age Steppers, on African Headcharge’s Drastic Season and Environmental Studies, Dub Syndicate’s Tunes From The Missing Channel, and the second of the Play Group’s Epic Sound Battles which is one of the criminally overlooked works in the On-U canon. Beresford and Toop, along with Sue Steward, would at that time (this is still the early ‘80s) be part of the team behind Collusion, a publication that helped to prove there was a world of music out there to enjoy. As well as global rhythms Collusion covered much of what was happening in terms of the nascent US hip hop, emerging electro and developing disco scenes, and the cross-pollination going on. We could do with some Collusionism nowadays! Y itself would pick up on one of the early hip hop classics with the Fearless Four’s Rockin’ It, one of those early Kraftwerk crafty reworkings. One of those records David Toop would often refer to in electro overviews, along with recordings by outfits like Warp 9, particularly Light Years Away with Jelly Bean or Nunk as in new wave funk. I am a huge fan of the work of Warp 9, as well as productions for others, particularly the dub of Zarah. I can still remember the delight at reading Toop’s Rap Attack and realising that the Lotti Golden involved as part of electro pioneers Warp 9 in the early ‘80s was the same Lotti Golden recording for Atlantic in 1969 as a Laura Nyro style soul/jazz singer/songwriter with Bob Crewe producing the fantastic Motor Cycle, one of the greatest and criminally rarest records ever. There was a couple of years later another Lotti Golden record, which has proved to be elusive. As elusive as the Y release of Wicked City by R.A.P.P. which I believe is a Dennis Bovell related project, which has got to be a good thing. The weird thing is that the most ‘difficult’ of Y releases, on paper at least, has remained the most available, namely The Litanies of Satan by Diamanda Galas. Work that one out.
Ah but the music! If you’re missing your lovers rock and your On-U sounds. If you like your torch song ballads moody and deep, your hip hop downtempo and bleak, your bossa infinitely sad, and feel the need to seek salvation in swirls of sound that could include fado, Fairouz, flamenco. Well, this is the record for you too.
You know how sometimes it seems a record is tailor made specifically for you? Exactly. Anyway we’re getting ahead of ourselves. I was going to start by saying that my favourite Sun Ra record is Lanquidity. For all sorts of reasons. The Bob Blank (and thus Ze Records) connection, and so on. I also love how there is a bit in the liner notes for the CD release where Tom Buchler refers to Ra’s filing system, and the papers, records, instruments, whatever, scattered around everywhere, and how the great man explained that if he used a conventional system of filing he would only come into contact with what he was looking for and that this way he kept coming into contact with the unexpectedly useful. Quite. I’m not quite that bad, but I did feel a bit like that recently rummaging in a box full of Adrian Sherwood/On-U Sounds related CDs, and chanced upon the Samia Farah CD from the turn of the millennium. While it would be a few years later I first heard it, it has nevertheless remained a real favourite, and on digging it out sounded better than ever. So I got to wondering what Samia had been doing all the while, did what you do these days which is crank up the search engine, which helpfully took me to Samia’s MySpace page (www.myspace.com/samiafarah), where I discovered there was a new record out, so I followed the link to Amazon and did the necessary. So, Samia Farah’s The Many Moods Of … A record tailor made for me if ever there was one. The title making me think of Ann Richards, one of my favourite jazz singers, who also had a Many Moods Of ... The cover making me think of exotica and even Martin Denny/Sandy Warner. Great.
And if you need to prove its provenance the credits include our national treasures Adrian Sherwood and Dennis Bovell, and appearances from reggae royalty Style Scott, Earl Chinna Smith, George Oban, Crocodile and Bubblers. Add to that the songwriting credits include Prince Far I, Langston Hughes and Edu Lobo. But the record is completely Samia, her songs, her vocals, her instrumentation, her production, her presence, her vision. It’s like all the best bits from that debut, intensified. And that was the best LP to come out of France since whenever, bar perhaps Melaaz. And please if anyone knows what happened to her, and did she make more than the one self-titled Philippe Zdar (of La Funk Mob) LP from ‘95? Like Melaaz and her Non, Non, Non, Cool from Samia’s first LP cropped up on a number of lounge style compilations, in the great tradition of Kruder & Dorfmeister. I mention that because Samia has worked with Richard Dorfmeister in his Tosca guise on the excellent Heidi Bruehl, one of the many activities she has been involved in while painstakingly perfecting The Many Moods Of ... She’s been studying Mandarin, Arabic, fine and abstract art, and currently studies digital media in London. She’s collaborated with Adrian Sherwood on his Becoming A Cliche, duetted with Lee Perry on Yellow Tongue, the best thing Scratch has done in years. She’s worked with Brooklyn’s DJ Center and Brazil’s Moa Anbessa Sound System. Her current project And it all sounds great. Samia is now working on an Arabic dub album where she plays all the instruments and programmes the beats. I can’t wait for that one. In the meantime there are the many moods of Samia to explore ...
were to be the maybe mythical b-girlz project Stapleton has been putting together. One thing that does appeal to me about NWW is the legendary list that came with their first couple of LPs, which now trails tendrils all over the web. I understand it’s a list of ‘influences’ or ‘references’ that came with the text: “categories strain, crack and sometimes break, under their burden - step out of the space provided”. I like that. Could be our manifesto! From what I’ve seen the list is an astonishing and rambling range of experimental artists, ranging from the obvious and challenging to the downright esoteric and hopelessly obscure. Successive waves of devotees have declared their avowed intent to continue the quest to track down works by all the artists cited. Well, why not? It’s always nice to have a hobby. This is written from a position of relative ignorance. That concerns me slightly. It shouldn’t. Most things I read seem to have been written from a position of total ignorance. But you know ...So the more we know the more we realise we don’t know. And yet how often, in relation to art, music, life, do you hear the phrase so-and-so knows too much? What’s that all about? No one can possibly know too much. It’s more a question of how we use the knowledge.
And, anyway I don’t care who it is, there are always gaps in their knowledge. There are people who have built careers pontificating about post-punk for example yet have never seen the inner sleeve of The Jam’s All Mod Cons. We all have blind spots. You wouldn’t go to Stereolab’s Tim Gane to learn about an obscure ‘70s Jamaican DJ. You wouldn’t go to Sir Shambling’s astonishing deep soul heaven site to learn about the punk/disco crossover. Me? I really don’t know much about the music made by the likes of Nurse With Wound, Current 93 and Coil. This is not exactly a conscious decision on my part. It’s just the way things have worked out. There are actually things about NWW I rather like. The sheer dogged determination, and so on. I know too that NWW’s Steven Stapleton shares my fondness for female MCs in hip hop, and I guess it would be nice if my first NWW record
Funnily enough at around the same time the NWW list appeared London soul devotee Randy Cozens put together a list of 100 tracks a new generation of mods should check out. This was published in August 1979 in the weekly music paper Sounds, and took on totemic importance as sharp kids set about tracking down the likes of Jackie Ross’ Selfish One, Ray Pollard’s The Drifter, and Bettye Swann’s Make Me Yours. And believe me in those days before the salvage industry really got going it was tough to track down some of those soul sounds as it would have been to get to hear some of the musical adventurers on the NWW list. So, both tremendously important lists, and both lovingly, if a little mischievously, put together by music lovers intent on sharing their enthusiasms. I’m a big fan of lists. I like the way books by Iain Sinclair, say, are essentially lists. I am endebted to him, for example, for his crusade to rekindle interest in forgotten London writers like Alexander Baron or Emmanuel Litminoff and in particular the way he brought Robin Cook/Derek Raymond back into our consciousness. I often prefer lists of songs and artists, discographies and bibliographies at the back of publications, to the books themselves. Many the time my copy of England’s Dreaming has been on its way to the charity shop when I have decided to keep it if only for the 1974 Love/Hate lists that appeared on the McLaren/Rhodes and Westwood t-shirt. It’s carefully thought out, rather like the time and
trouble people take putting together of lists of loves for social networking sites.
think: “Eek!” But there’s generally a warning of what to expect.
One of the names that features in the NWW list is that of Catherine Ribeiro. And it’s got to be a good thing if people have discovered her music via the list. Perversely it was via Catherine Ribeiro that I discovered the NWW list, and that’s perhaps a good thing. I had followed the clues to Catherine’s work via an interest in French yé-yé sounds of the ‘60s and an index that mentioned that Catherine had started in a Godard movie (Les Carabiniers) and had gone to make progressively weird music, which piqued my interest. I discovered the long box CD set Libertés? Treated myself, and haven’t looked back since. There is something so appealing about artists that stray from the expected. Our private pantheons are populated with them. The ones that take some strange diversions. Scott Walker, Julie Driscoll (Tippets), Tim Buckley, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Caetano Veloso, and so on. You can pick put all sorts of things from all sorts of walks of life. Like the leap 23 Skidoo made from the debut single Ethics to Seven Songs in a short space of time. Or Sketch’s leap from Linx to 23 Skidoo. Adventures close to my home.
With Catherine’s records though I had no idea. I remember thinking: “What’s going on here?” I guess like many people my initial response was: “Ah Nico ...” But there’s none of the fatalism or bleakness. This music though was very much a raised, clenched fist, with an astonishing power and intensity that said that while there’s still a world to win my red dream is everything.
Catherine Ribeiro was never comfortable with her mid-‘60s pop persona. She said: “Je ne suis pas Sheila, je ne veux pas me transformer en cover-girl come on l’a propse plusieurs fois”. In the same way her contemporary Stella would write songs poking fun at the French yéyé thing. Songs which just happened to be fantastic spiky pop while arguing more should be made of French roots, folk traditions, rather than copying American trends. She was more into Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, but still made some of the best French pop music of the ‘60s, often working with Gerard Hugé, who also worked with the fantastic garage-iste Pussy Cat, whom he married. Stella would go on to meet, marry, and sing with Christian Vander of Magma, another NWW reference point. Catherine met Patrice Moullet on the set of Les Carabiniers and they would go on to work together extensively as the ‘60s became the ‘70s. For years over a series of records as Catherine & 2Bis or Catherine Ribeiro and the Alpes they made music that’s pretty much unlike anything else. Oh there’s always Tim Buckley or Patty Waters or Buffy Sainte Marie’s Illuminations. Things that you hear and
I have a fatal weakness for artists that undergo a gradual process of radicalisation or politicisation. I find it hard, for example, to imagine how you could live through the events of Paris ’68, Prague, Vietnam, the assassinations in America and so on, and not be affected by them. And don’t even start me on the here and now. And while my shameful linguistic limitations may hinder my understanding of the lyrics, the striking stridency, the passion tells me all I need to know. No hippy passivity on these records. And while Catherine may have recorded The Partisans’ Song with the choir of the Red Army her red flag was perhaps less communist than communitarian as in the spirit of the communards. The closest comparison I can come up with when putting Catherine’s delivery into context is Linda Sharrock’s singing on Sonny Sharrock’s Black Woman. And there is a link perhaps in that Bialero on there is a French traditional folk song.
As for the music? Well, what Moullet came up with is scary, and it’s difficult not to come over all Julian Cope-like where in his Krautrocksampler he writes how in Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation “the cello of Conrad Schitzler dominates the opening moments ... swooping high up the neck then down down down to the lowest notes, as Edgar Froese’s guitar begins to beat out a clanky non-rhythm and Klaus Schultze’s furious tomtoms hesitate at first then burst through the sound to establish a huge tribal beat ...” That could pretty much be the Alpes sound. Except the electricity comes via invented instruments. And the tom-toms, the rhythm, the beat. At times it’s magnificently martial. With, oh I don’t know, maybe echoes of the middle ages, the middle east, middle Europe, and we’re back to the folk sounds, folk traditions, as old as the hills, as in the songs of the Auvergne again, as in the recordings that play such a key role in Jonathan Coe’s wonderful The Rain Before It Falls, the title of which comes from a Michael Gibbs tune. The same Gibbs that was part of the British jazz scene where singers like Norma Winstone and Julie Tippets did such special, unique things. Catherine Ribeiro would later find success interpreting the songs of Edith Piaf. An idea I find appealing. Just as the teenage me found the idea of Piaf appealing, the romance, reading her story, hearing the Mo-Dettes cover Milord, knowing the Pop Group came onstage to Piaf’s performing Je Ne Regrette Riens.
Yet I am painfully conscious of not knowing enough about the French chansons tradition (yet!). I have only just caught up with and fallen for the work of Léo Férré. Amor Anarchie. La Solitude. And so on. I like the way French singers have this whole other background, one outside rock ‘n’ roll, rooted more in live performance, theatre, cabaret, night clubs. Reading up on Catherine Ribeiro I noted how in relation to the days of rage and the radicalisation her name would be mentioned in connection with Jacques Higelin’s. I felt pleased at that, knowing a little of his work. I had got a reissue of his first LP (from 1965) in a beautiful edition as part of a series of Jacques Canetti productions. I was very into Boris Vian at the time, and the debut Higelin outing had a number of Vian interpretations. And Higelin looked so cool on the cover. I read up on his politicisation, his libertarianism, his penchant for agitation and improvisation, how he hung out with the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Pretty Things, and so tracked down his two early ‘70s LPs, Inedits and Crabouif, thinking yes these are very much the work of someone that likes agitation and improvisation alright. Much of the musical inventiveness I put down to the presence of Areski, whom Higelin knew from military service in Algeria back in the early ‘60s.
These Higelin records appeared on Saravah, the label run by Pierre Barouh. One of the great individualistic imprints. Barouh himself is perhaps best known for his part (with Francis Lai) in the soundtrack for A Man And A Woman, which maybe woke France up to the possibilities of bossa nova and Brazilian music. Barouh’s own passion for Brazilian sounds ran deep, and in 1969 he would make a wonderful film there, Saravah, featuring fantastic footage of Baden Powell, Maria Bethania, Marcia, and so on. Barouh also looks completely cool in the film. A rare thing for independent label bosses. You really wouldn’t want to see Tony Wilson or Geoff Travis with their shirts off on the beach would you? Barouh’s label was completely cool too, covering a lot of ground, from bossa to baroque, from folk to free jazz. Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos would release his classic debut, Africadeus, on the label, and be involved in a number of others for Saravah, including Pierre Akendengue’s Nandipo/Afrika Obota, which is a beguiling mix of African, Brazilian and French pop sounds. It’s tempting to join the dots to what Lizzy Mercier Descloux would later do on Mambo Nassau and Zulu Rock, which were records very much in the spirit of Saravah. Perhaps the most well known Saravah releases are the series of LPs Brigitte Fontaine made for the label with Areski, and in particular Comme à La Radio which was made with the involvement of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. This after all was the end of the ‘60s, when a number of American free jazzers, a number of Brazilian artists too, were in exile in Paris, the eternal city of refuge. Brigitte Fontaine is another of those endlessly appealing characters well outside of the rock hall of fame. Her background, too, is very much in the theatre/nightclub tradition, with links to Jacques Higelin going back a long way. Their first records were recorded with Jacques Canetti, and they appear to have egged each other on to new adventures and outspoken daring. Fontaine’s first LP (from 1966) was Dévaste-Moi or ‘13 Chansons decadents et
fantasmagoriques’. It’s more Peggy Lee than Judy Collins, shall we say. Then came the series of LPs for Saravah, and you can’t go wrong with any of the ‘60s/’70s titles. Where Higelin would continue his chameleon-like evolution to Bowie exoticism, Fontaine’s work with Areski remained in the folk/theatricals worlds, with the percussion particularly adding an extra dimension of strangeness, taking the sound beyond western expectations. Fantastic records. The new millennium brought a resurgence of interest in Brigitte’s work, and her 2001 Kekeland LP featured her fans Sonic Youth, and indeed Areski and Archie Shepp, in a wonderfully contrary display of how to upstage young pretenders, no matter how important their part in redefining what should be ‘rechercher’ in pop. Stereolab too would dedicate a song to Brigitte, in that strange period of time when Tim Gane would enthuse about lost moments of pop music, before we had the liberating luxury of using a search engine to find the unobtainable, and all we could do was hope for a wellintentioned reissue or for a miracle to happen in a charity shop. Ah well. Stereolab would also if I remember rightly collaborate with Nurse With Wound. I may even have that record somewhere.
Trinity. 1977. Three Piece Suit. A Jamaican DJ’s reinvention of the Marica Aitken version of the reggae standard I’m Still In Love With You. Trinity. 1975. A newly democratised Fay Hallam Trinity’s fresh variations on soul/beat themes. Althea & Donna’s twist on Three Piece Suit would become a worldwide hit. I see no reason why Trinity’s 1975 should not go the same way. The title track is catchy enough …
I’ve argued for a long time that as a singer and songwriter Fay Hallam is up there with Laura Nyro and Jackie De Shannon. I may be hopelessly biased, but the 1975 set is better than even I dared hope. The hallmark Brian Auger/Julie Driscoll or Sharon Tandy/Les Fleur De Lys Daughter of the Sun sound is still there, but there’s more of a soul jazz Ramsey Lewis feel to the instrumentation. More ballads too, as Fay puts us through the emotional wringer. There’s a new found depth to this suite of songs. So among the Hammond-led garage grrrowlers there are some intense and deeply spiritual numbers that almost make you feel you’re intruding on very personal moments of outpouring. Recent years have seen a series of important salvage works. That’s sort of stating the obvious. But we shouldn’t take this for granted. The genial Joe Foster, for example, at Rev-ola has enabled us to learn more about Lori Burton, Merrilee Rush, Evie Sands. Artists that produced fantastically poppy and deeply soulful sounds that transcended genres, and surely suffered as a result in terms of recognition. That imbalance or injustice has been in part corrected. I hope the same happens with Fay. I understand Ace/Big Beat is planning to release a follow-up to the Rhythm! compilation of a few years back, taking in the No Lumps of Fat Or Gristle Guaranteed set that Fay’s first group Makin’ Time recorded in the summer of 1986 after being messed around by major label machinations. As a defiant statement the set was recorded rapidly and roughly, but the half a dozen or so Fay Hallam compositions included make it one of the all-time greats, and the spikiness becomes her. It’s to be hoped the reissue covers the posthumous German release, Unchain My Heart, which would salvage another handful of Fay’s songs. And, yeah, before you even think it Makin’ Time were popular with and usually played for kids with a keen interest in the mod thing, who were into dancing to an old Nella Dodds song or a Kent Records set, or listening to a Jimmy Smith LP or an Artwoods compilation. And the problem with that is?
I’ve been amused at recent ruminations about Zomby, the out-of-step dubstep producer, and the Where Were You in ’92? set referencing old hardcore and jungle sounds with attendant archive activity on the web with postings of original pirate mixtapes, and so on. Just like when Burial broke cover there was lots of talk about the spirit of Photek and Omni Trio. Fine with me. But the talk of the bass continuum … well, it’s a bit ironic, except the ‘nuum generals aren’t good at irony. And they’re not good at looking outside of their closed circles, as reviews of the Factory box set show where these guys struggle with their vocabulary once away from the obvious suspects, sadly lacking the wit to make a case for the Stockholm Monsters, or the significance of Sarah Quigley of Swamp Children/Kalima as the only female lead in the Factory soap opera. Oh well … You see strangeness turns up in the most unexpected of places. So Fay’s song 1975 may be a paean to less complicated, more innocent times. David Essex, and all that. Right. 1975. David Essex. I remember the hardest guy in our school. His older brother. Looked like Rob Ward would in Subway Sect a few years later. Anyway, he was a nice guy, and I remember him saying he loved David Essex, and I must have looked surprised. He smiled, said you have to like him, as all the girls like him, and anyway he’s better than all those heavy ‘bloke’ groups because his music’ stranger but he’s still one of us. Over the ensuing years I would understand more and more that he had a point. Especially when I got to hear Dr John ... www.myspace.com/fayhallamtrinity
great place to visit for new breed mixes of all sorts. Some people may have too much time, talent and technology but it is an absolute flâneur’s delight. Among the guest mixes and features, each with full colour artwork, you’ll find Ahu’s mix of progressive beats by Paul White, another almost anonymous, entertainingly elusive London producer whose recent mix for the eerily enthusiastic Mary Anne Hobbs is getting played to death in many a domain. It’s available via Paul’s MySpace page at www.myspace.com/paulmw where you’ll find more details about the series of limited edition 7”s Paul’s been releasing via One Handed Music. I do like the idea of the new beat generation reclaiming the 7” format.
Nothing personal against the group itself, as I rather like the new record, but it’s interesting how the so-called progressives like Animal Collective cling to the record, reviews, interviews, touring model of promotion and communication, while elsewhere more adventurous elements are acting in ways that are positively viral. Take, for instance, the Flying Lotus track Roberta Flack, which is one of highlights of modern times, featuring the vocals of Dolly. Now in other quarters Dolly goes by the name of Ahu, a DJ, producer, vocalist, and alchemist whose unpredictability and unorthodoxy is capturing the imagination of many. Stick Ahu into a search engine, and you’ll have a nightmare, but stick with it. There is a wealth of mixes, tracks and collaborations scattered around the web here and there, and it becomes a veritable adventure putting the pieces together and tracking down what she’s been up to. MySpace (www.myspace.com/ahudolly) is a logical place to start, but if you want to play the wild card then track down an old Moodyman mix for Gilles Peterson and in the build-up you’ll hear an Ahu reinvention of David Essex’s Rock On by way of Jay Dee, which seems wholly appropriate. And there’s a more recent Ahu mix for Gilles’ Worldwide show, put together just before her return to Turkey, which is an absolute must. It features a Floating Points (another gifted viral mischief/beat maker and soundscaper) remix of Little Dragon’s After The Rain, and Yukimi Naagano’s vocals do sound very Dolly-like. And I need to put my hand up here and confess how slow off the mark I’ve been with Little Dragon and their gorgeously twisted take on r’n’b and soultronics. One of Ahu’s occasional collaborators is Mr Beatnick, who is involved with the www.shhhhh.co.uk anti-hype consortium which is a
Also finding a spiritual home at One Handed Music is Acton’s Bullion, whose Get Familiar single has been a big underground hit for those who like their beats, mood mosaics and swirls of sound on the disconcerting and disorientating side. The great thing about all this music, apart from the fact that it’s impossible to pin down, is that it seems to stay in touch with the dancefloor (though quite which dancefloor is another discussion to be had) without wandering off onto some arid abstract plane. Bullion, by the way, caused a stir a while back with his Pet Sounds In The Key of Dee project. Not a literal exercise, rather fusing the spirits of Brian Wilson and Dilla, mixing beats with Pet Sounds related cut-ups. Worth it alone to ruffle the feathers of the Beach Boygeoisie, but it works a treat, sounding oddly like Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, and prompts the question what Wilson would do now if he were in his mid-20s? You’d like to think something like this. Anyway this was clearly a work of love, as befits someone who puts Rotary Connection, Honey & the Bees, Kenny Rankin, White Noise, United States of America, Arthur Russell and A Tribe Called Quest in his shhhhh mix. Seems the next Bullion release on One Handed Music, Young Heartache, will raise the ante. Meanwhile get more erm e-bullion-ce at: www.myspace/bullioness.
You know how you picture places you’ve never been? Well, I have never been to the Dusty Groove store, so I have no idea of what to expect. Oh I’ve imagined what it’s like. But that’s dangerous. I remember as a kid imagining what the Rough Trade store would be like. The epicentre of bohemianism, and all that. But oh the let down when I finally took the tube out west and found that dismal shop. Now, Dusty Groove on line I do know. And it’s a dangerous environment to enter. It always seems to have so much in stock that I feel I need to hear. So I steer clear. What is interesting is Dusty Groove’s diversion into salvage operations. Its imprint has been rivalling The Numero Group, Soul Jazz and Honest Jons. Daringly, its speciality is straight reissues. No convoluted compilations. No unwarranted extras. Just the wholly commendable concept of making available essential music. Like The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby and The Dells Sing The Greatest Hits of Dionne Warwick. And it doesn’t get any more essential than that. There have also been a couple of Jorge Ben titles in the series. The self-titled 1969 set. And the Forca Bruta LP from the following year. You won’t get much more essential than those two either. It does seem odd though that records by an artist whose name is so recognised, the creator of Mas Que Nada and so on, should be so hard to obtain that they crop up in a series like this. So credit to Dusty Groove for redressing the balance somewhat.
These Jorge Ben records are wonderful, and a fantastic way for anyone approaching his music to start what will become an addiction. It is interesting that with these LPs, and particularly with the 1969 set, you start to see words like psychedelic and soul imposed as adjectives on Jorge’s distinctive acoustic guitar and percussion driven samba sound. While understanding what prompts people to use epithets like psychedelic and soul in such a context it is misleading for anyone anticipating Motown or Hendrix connections, despite the fantastic horns and backing vocals. It doesn’t matter. The sound is so uplifting. It would be with tropicalia alchemist Rogerio Duprat involved. And my favourite Jorge Ben song in Take It Easy, My Brother Charlie. It also features Pais Tropical, another Jorge Ben song popularised by Sergio Mendes, and covered by many others. The following year’s Forca Bruta has more extravagantly ornate arrangements, and is a must have. Yet these two LPs are dips in the ocean. I’m no expert, but Jorge Ben doesn’t seem to have put a foot wrong in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and it is criminal that so many of his records remain the preserve of privileged collectors. These records need to be heard. And technology and times being what they are if you fish around there are plenty of opportunities to hear this music. I suggest starting with 1967’s O Bidu Silencio, the importance of which Caetano Veloso pinpoints in his brilliant Tropical Truth. He tells how he and Gilberto Gil felt this record summed up all their ambitions, filling them with enthusiasm for and envy at the way Jorge achieved a natural modernity without any artifice or conceit, while they were still stumbling around, trying out conscious collisions of cultures and sound solutions. Veloso is right. It is the naturalism of Jorge’s music that is so startling. I can’t help thinking of the Beatles in that respect. I’m not a big Beatles fan, and frequently kick against the classics and the ways in which they are used against us, but I unerringly, unwittingly, unwillingly melt when I hear a pre-Peppers ballad like The Word or This Boy. This is a trick Jorge pulls on the series of ‘70s LPs that followed Forca Bruta, from 1971’s Negro e Lindo onwards to my own favourite A Tabua De Esmerelda which somehow reminds me of what Terry Callier was doing around the same time. Veloso again picks out the 1973 LP Ben as being pivotal. This appeared around the same time as his Araca Azul LP, which was self-consciously experimental and as such Veloso felt it paled next to the achievements of Ben and Nana Vasconcelos’ Amazonas.
A bit harsh perhaps, as Araca Azul is a great record and the cover of the title track by Damon & Naomi only serves to highlight how beautiful the song itself is. But he is right in that Ben was a great achievement. Interestingly it is maybe best known now for hosting the original version of Taj Mahal, the song Rod Stewart appropriated and adapted, which to be fair at least shows some taste and helps if you’ve ever felt guilty at whistling that tune. You know the one … When I was growing up one of the phrases that echoed around was Mark E Smith’s avowal that there was repetition in his music and he was never going to lose it. He had a point, and it’s one of the reasons The Fall made some of the greatest dance music of the time. He would also exhort his colleagues not to start improvising. These were maxims Jorge Ben must have adhered closely to, particularly in the next series of LPs from the mid to late ‘70s. These records are so rhythmically tight and so ridiculously funky that it’s almost untrue. At this point you start seeing the epithet disco being used. But that’s a bit like the man said about Sun Ra’s Lanquidity, and how if that’s disco music it sure ain’t the sort of disco he’s been to, but he’d like to know the address. These Jorge Ben records are so groove driven it’s actually scary. No solos. No diversions. Irresistible. And irresistibly when I hear Solta O Pavao I think of the mighty Bohannon, and the fantastic records he made around the same time. A string of singles that I was obsessed with as a kid. Disco Stomp, South African Man, Foot Stomping Music, and so on. They still sound as good now. So the Bohannon comparison is a huge compliment in my book. Always thought the early Happy Mondays were tapping into a Bohannon thing too. Anyway, 1976’s Africa Brasil is the one you really need to hear. As the title suggests the African rhythms are more explicit, and at times it’s more propulsive than Fela’s Afrobeat, and at times you start thinking of the Talking Heads’ Fear Of Music or My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Of course the early Talking Heads had a Bohannon thing going on too. Though didn’t they sort of acknowledge that via Tom Tom Club? And to complete the circle David Byrne would play a key role in introducing Brazilian music to a new audience via his Luaka Bop imprint, certainly giving some of the tropicalistas a new lease of life. Many of the tropicalistas were hugely influenced by Jorge Ben, but to make a gross generalisation it seems his background was rather different to someone like Caetano Veloso. Putting the pieces together it appears Jorge Ben was part of a group of kids, including Brazilian soul great Tim Maia, whose heads were turned by rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis,
Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and so on. Hmm, and the problem with that is? Well, the problem for some was that North American rock was considered crude and vulgar and commercialised. Brazil, anyway, had its own revolution via Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim and the birth of bossa nova. This revolution led kids like Veloso to sounds such as Ella, Sarah Vaughan, the MJQ, Miles, Monk, Chet Baker. So, you can see a bit of a mods and rockers thing going on there can’t you? It was strange therefore that Jorge Ben should sneak in through the bossa door and immediately create waves with his composition Mas Que Nada, which Sergio Mendes would go on to popularise, and many others would cover. But Jorge Ben didn’t fit in. Too pop. Too samba. Too much rhythm ‘n’ blues. Not pure enough. Not Brazilian enough. And all the better for it. Which is what the tropicalistas would realise. Interestingly the tropicalistas also came to realise the worth of some of Jorge’s old rocker acquaintances. Gal Costa would sing songs by Erasmo Carlos and Roberto Carlos. Nara Leao would go on to do a whole LP of their songs. Me, I’m no expert, but I have at least had the chance to hear a couple of Erasmo Carlos LPs from the early ‘70s, and they are exquisite and far more complex that I expected. Sonhos & Memorias 1941-1972 is the absolute classic masterpiece which has just about everything going on within its walls, from Gene Clark to the Rascals, and you’d swear Meu Mar was the great lost Michael Head/Shack song of your dreams. Backing comes I think from Karma, a Brazilian outfit whose own 1972 is a favourite in the blogosphere, which is understandable given how gorgeous its arrangements and harmonies are. Still so much to discover!
One of the joys of constructive loafing in these troubled times is finding oneself in strange but wonderful places and not really remembering how one’s wanderings led us to this place of all places, except you know fate’s got something to do with it. So one moment you may be enjoying The Sorrows ripping it up in the background of a fight/dance scene of an old Italian movie, the next you may be watching kids dancing to Erasmo Carlos or falling in love with a clip of Krystyna Konarska on Polish TV in the ‘60s. One thing leads to another, and before you know it you’re on the MySpace page for Chicca & Intrigo (www.myspace.com/chiccaandriollo) and being rendered speechless by a performance of End Of Our Love. Yes, End Of Our Love as in Nancy Wilson and the broad church of Northern Soul. One of those songs that hold a very special place in my heart. Like Timi Yuro’s It’ll Never Be Over For Me. Have you heard that in Spanish? It shouldn’t work. It should be sacrilege. But it’s perfect. It works perfectly because Chicca Andriollo is such a gifted Italian jazz singer, and a special interpreter of songs, with the same mixture of sophistication and grrrit that Nancy displays on End
Of Our Love, and indeed so many other fantastic recordings. Chicca can do that tigerish Liberation Conversation thing of Marlena Shaw, the joyous juju of Cher walking on gilded splinters. But then Chicca can play it any old way. Fiery like Carmen McRae. Playfully purrfect bossa like Elis Regina. Scatting crazily like Sarah Vaughan or Mark Murphy. Or on the upbeat with all the drama of Mina. By the way have you heard Timi Yuro in Italian? The perfect complement to Chicca’s singing is the Hammond organ of Oscar Marchioni, which drives the sound along so effectively, and as Intrigo with a pool of the best Paris jazz musicians their sound is hard to beat. The original compositions seem to be as irresistible as the interpretations, and while on one level certain songs could slip effortlessly on to one of the Kent Records mod/jazz collections (and the problem with that is?) on another level it all sounds unprecedented, and you just want to throw caution to the wind and head for the dance floor in your finest knitted jersey top and your freshly cut French crop, just knowing the future starts here.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org www.myspace.com/yrheartout