Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Have a Skanking New Year!

Not too much explanation or explication needed for this post.
Except to say: what more perfect a way will see in the New Year than a Classic Ska Collection?

So here is a Classic Ska Collection.

Add it to your party mix; or just light-up a big one, kick back the rug, throw down the talc and skank yourself through the chimes.

The Liquidators - compiled by Mark Stratford (1989)
Licenced by Trojan Records and Greenheart Music.

Liquidator - Harry J. All Stars
Rudy, A Message To You - Dandy Livingstone
Phoenix City - Roland Alphonso
It Mek - Desmond Dekker
Miss Jamaica - Jimmy Cliff
Musical Store Room - Don Drummond
Pressure Drop - The Maytals
Return of Django - The Upsetters
Skinhead Moonstomp - Symarip
Israelites - Desmond Dekker and the Aces
Guns of Navarone - Skatalites
Train to Rainbow City - The Pyramids
007 (Shanty Town) - Desmond Dekker
Guns Fever - Baba Brooks
Shame and Scandal - Peter Tosh and the Wailers
Double Barrel - Dave and Ansil Collins
Ethiopia - The Pyramids
Dollar in the Teeth - The Upsetters
Johnny Too Bad - Slickers
Don't be a Rude Boy - The Rulers
Train to Skaville - The Ethipoians
12 Minutes To Go - Tommy McCook
Monkey Man - The Maytals
Rudy's Dead - The Pyramids

CD rip, includes artwork
Liquidate yourself here

And whatever you get up to this New Year's Eve,
whatever your body holds host to,
whatever is coursing through your blood stream:
And have one on me

Have a Happy New Year! Yeah!
Shanti, roy

Monday, 29 December 2008

How Low can You go?

Ultramarine (Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper) peaked creatively in the early nineteen-nineties with their excellent albums Every Man and Woman is a Star (1991) and United Kingdoms (1993).

This single, 'Kingdom', came from the United Kingdoms album, and featured the voice of Robert Wyatt, something that made Ultramarine stand out from many of the electronic, ambient acts of the time.

Wyatt, who still has one of the more interesting and provocative voices in 'alternative' music, first appeared on the Every Man and Woman is a Star project, searched out by the pair as they were both keen fans and inspired by his own brand of idiosyncratic music.

It was a brilliant choice to juxtapose their own new sounds with; making ambient house music accessible to, and of interest to, many that had yet to experience it.

'Kingdom' is a great example of what Ultramarine were so good at: fusing ambient sounds with other genres. And having already mixed up ambient with house, reggae and rock, on this release they went for a folky mix; using Wyatt's vulnerable falsetto to superb effect.

The reedy, flutey sounds created here make for a baroque flavour; a style that perfectly accompanies the nineteenth-century inspired lyrics, originally penned by the protosocialist (friend of both Marx and Engels) and Chartist (a political and social reform movement from the mid-eighteen-hundreds, said to be the first working class labour movement in the world) Ernest Jones.

A hardened campaigner who often incited those who would listen to commit acts of violence on behalf of the cause, Jones was considered subversive and dangerous (there had been a lot of paranoia in Britain ever since the French Revolution; Jones and his Chartist movement [Chartists because they demanded a charter, a declaration of rights, something Britain has never had, still] heightened the paranoia, and many cities and towns across Britain were ruled by marshall law and curfews due to acts of rebellion and civil disobedience inspired by the likes of Jones) and was imprisoned for sedition in 1848 for two years; the only form of expression left to him being to 'write in his own blood on leaves torn from a common prayer-book'.

No wonder Socialism is so attractive to the young.
It's soooooo Romantic!

But that doesn't detract from this being a great lyric.
Very cynical; wonderfully satirical; deeply meaningful and as dangerous as... well, any other poem, I guess...

The Chartists are history; along with the Levellers and the Diggers and the Ranters and the Ravers...
But the moment is captured. The attitude is crystallized.
And Ultramarine and Robert Wyatt did a fine job in bringing it back to our attention.

Kingdom - Ernest Jones (circa 1848)

We're low, we're low, mere rabble, we know, but at our plastic power,
The mould at the lording's feet will grow into palace and church and tower.
Then prostrate fall, in the rich man's hall, and cringe at the rich man's door;
We're not too low to build the wall, but too low to tread the floor.

Down, down we go, we're so very low, to the hell of the deep sunk mines,
But we gather the proudest gems that glow, when the crown of a despot shines.
And whenever he lacks, upon our backs, fresh loads he deigns to lay:
We're far too low to vote the tax, but not too low to pay.

We're low, we're low, we're very very low, yet from our fingers glide
The silken flow, and the robes that glow round the limbs of the sons of pride.
And what we get, and what we give, we know, and we know our share;
We're not too low the cloth to weave, but too low the cloth to wear.

Prada anyone?

Ultramarine - Kingdom (1993)

Kingdom (extended mix)
Kingdom (edit)

12" Vinyl rip @320kbs
Get down, dirty and low here

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Something Old, Something New, Shoo-be-do-be-do

Nik Turner has had a long and eclectic career in music.

Known mainly for his work with Hawkwind, but dabbling and experimenting in all manner of musical concepts and genres; he has probably collaborated with more underground musicians than any other artist.

At present he fronts a R&B, jazz, dance band - as mentioned in my previous Nik Turner post - and Kubano Kickasso, released in 2003, captures his present sound pretty well; but as with Hawkwind, his band tends to have members with very itchy feet.

But back in the early eighties, long before Nik started playing jazz and R&B, the arty post punk scene grabbed his attention, and before long he was gigging with a new band: Inner City Unit.

Their first couple of albums were fairly chaotic affairs but caused a lot of interest in the alternative scene, appealing to punks, crusties, bikers as well as the hippy crew who were still into the whole prog thing.

By 1985, the band had pretty much run out of steam; but they did manage to produce what I think is their best album, The President's Tapes.

Not well received initially, which may account for its lack of CD release, but over the course of time I think it has travelled very well (better than the earlier releases); still sounding good, and as with all ICU's albums, tracks cross effortlessly across genre boundaries.

The opening number, 'Stonehenge Who Knows?', conspicuously reveals Turner's roots, sounding not a million miles away from Hawkwind's sound, circa Hall of the mountain Grill.

But by the second track, 'President's Tapes', the band acknowledge punk's influence big time, and a much harder edge is established.

After that it all starts to mash together, which essentially was what Inner City Unit was all about.

'The World of LSD' is a curious piece; a suite of music emulating the psychedelic experience.
Paranoia and all.
Space Punk? Maybe.

'Fungus Among Us' is the track that indicates where Turner's sound would be heading once he'd finished being a punk rocker.

And in the early days of Nik Turner's Fantastic All Stars, 'Fungus Among Us' was one of the few Inner City Unit tracks he would still play.

Inner City Unit - The President's Tapes (1985)

Stonehenge Who Knows?
President's Tape
Fungus Among Us
World of LSD
Big Foot

Excellent cassette rip @320kbs
Get space punked here

Despite Kubano Kickasso being essentially a dance album in the mode of jazz and R&B, it's still pretty far out and spacey; opening with a wonderful bit of dialogue setting the scene:

"My name is Chief Frank Buckshaft Standing Horse.
I am an Odawa Indian, and in ninety-fifty-nine, on July the twelfth, I took a trip in a flying saucer."

Kind of a neat way to introduce a jazzy R&B album!

So with Inner City Unit Turner brought us space punk.
Here he brings us space swing, space jazz and far out R&B!

It's a really fine album this, and hey, it'll go down well if you wanna kick the rug back over the holiday period and get on down and sweaty.

Just dig that Hammond playing on the very cool 'Watermelon Man', and after hearing 'Sidewinder', you'll just wish you'd learn to play the sax.

And despite all the past legendary, freaky behaviour, the far out road stories and the rock and roll excesses, this album certainly verifies Nik Turner as being a mighty fine mother of a sax player.

He can really blow that thing!

Nik Turner's Fantastic All Stars - Kubano Kickasso (2003)

Dangle From the Angle
So What
Skatrane (Last Train to Skasville)
Watermelon Man
Phat Man
James Brown
Cantelopue Island
Jive Samba

Full CD Artwork included.
Grab yourself some of that jazz man here

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Really Really Free

The story is with John Otway that Polydor Records signed him up on the back of a demo version of 'Really Free', believing that he was punk, and was going to become punk's answer to Neil Sedaka, or something.

The story concludes that Otway wasn't punk, but merely 'eccentric', so Polydor got bored and moved on to their next big thing (Penetration also suffered at the hands of Polydor, a label who really just didn't get punk at all!).

The truth is that Otway is really about as punk as you can get.
Okay, he may not have sported a mohawk or sputnik, donned bondage trousers or sang about smashing the state; but he was certainly DIY and very much the Situationist.

I first encountered him, as undoubtedly did many others, via a BBC television broadcast back in 78, accompanied by his long suffering on and off musical collaborator, the extremely talented Wild Willy Barrett.

It was an unbelievable performance.
I smashed my china pig that very night and the next day had in my possession the pair's 7" single: 'Really Free'.
And O bliss, on the flipside was 'Beware of the Flowers (Because I'm Sure They're Gonna Get You Yeah)'; I was hooked, and have been a fan of their music ever since.

So, hit upon some nostalgia here to see Otway & Barrett's amazing, now legendary BBC performance.
This really is the Situationist at work; someone really making the most of appearing on national television:

Just in case you can't be bothered to watch the whole of that incredible piece of TV, here's a seventeen second highlight from that performance of the bit where Otway looks as though he has done himself a quite serious injury - all in the name of art. Of course.

Watching this performance gives one an insight as to why it may have been the pair separated more times than any other musical unit - at one time they had an entry in The Guinness Book of Records for holding the record for an entertainment act splitting up and getting back together more than any other.

But Otway was always a great crowd pleaser; comparable to Jackie Chan in his stage antics.

I once saw him perform at London's Rainbow Theatre (RIP) in 1980 (without Barrett this time, they'd had a recent spat, so Otway performed with a full backing band [Polydor still believed in him at this time]), and he went through this number about meeting various people while walking down the street. Whoever he met, he became, and one of those he met was Olga Korbut (takes you back!), he then proceeded to throw himself around the stage, attempting cart wheels and back flips, resulting in what looked like he would never be able to walk again.

Notice the way in the BBC clip Barrett constantly has his eye on Otway, always ready to move out of the way when Otway spontaneously decides to include acrobatics as part of the song's delivery.

How Otway survived his self-inflicted physical punishment, he only knows - perhaps he has a rubber skeleton - but he did, and he's still performing - there's plenty of recent YouTube clips to prove it - do check out his double necked guitar, the like of which cannot be imagined!

Otway & Barrett's material has long been deleted; Polydor has failed to reissue the albums on CD, but this album, Gone With the Bin, really does capture the prime of their work; and for once the term 'Best of' is well used.

All the tracks bar one are selected from Otway & Barrett's collaborated albums, and that's certainly where the best Otway material can be found.
His solo albums... well... they never really did it for me.

Otway needed Barrett like Peters needed Lee or Karen needed Richard.

The only solo piece on this collection comes not from Otway, but from one of Wild Willy's solo albums, the excellent Call of the Wild.

An absurdest little number entitled 'I did it Otway'.
Here we hear Barrett playing a pleasant acoustic ditty, but sawing into the instrument as the tune progresses.
By the end of the track the guitar is totally dismembered, but it is amazing the extent of damage the instrument can take before finally becoming unplayable.
It's a great concept, and quite wonderful hearing the tune being played while slowly becoming sicker and sicker.

Apparently, the guitar belonged to Otway!

Otway & Barrett - Gone with the Bin (1981)

Beware of the Flowers
Racing Cars (Jet Spotter of the Track)
Oh My Body is Making Me
Running From the Law
Cheryl's Going home
Birthday Boy
Really Free
Louisa Riding on a Horse
Body Talk
The Man who Shot Liberty Valance
Baby's in the Club
I Did it Otway

Immaculate cassette rip @320kbs
Really really really free here

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Pronk Goes Dutch

Juxtaposed with the Here and Now band's mid-eighties' sound, Cardiacs' music doesn't sound quite so oblique, but that's not to say the Cardiacs were derivative, they weren't; they mashed up genres like they'd never been mashed before, and thus: Pronk was born.
Here the Pronk masters are caught towards the end of their peak period back in 1988.

An excellent recording captured at Amsterdam's Paradiso; a venue that's provided many a quality live recording over the years.

They always provided a good show did the Cardiacs.
Always a spectacle; with stage decked out in streamers, balloons, flowers and other colourful whatnot; and what with their strange and alienating theatrical antics, bizarre preambles and general degenerate behaviour (listen to the way the audience on this recording respond to the false endings and Tim Smith's surreal intros): yeah, it was always a good night out.

But despite all their madcap tomfoolery, as a band they were always frighteningly tighter than tight; just check out 'Loosefish Scapegrace' on this recording; you couldn't drop a fag paper between their synchronous phrasing and dramatic time changes.
Spooky. Unearthly.

Cardiacs - Live (1989)

The Icing on the World
To Go Off and Things
In a City Lining
Gina Lollcbrigda
There's Too Many Irons in the Fire
Tarred and Feathered
Goose Gash
Loosefish Scapegrace
Is this the Life

Excellent cassette rip @320kbs
Get a Cardiac rush here

Deictic Dissonance

Released by Cold Harbour Records in 1986, this recording captured the apparent farewell performance of the Here and Now band at Dingwalls in Camden Town early in the year.

Only two thousand copies were pressed, and I doubt a CD release has even been considered.
A shame, as it’s a great performance; and for that period of Here and Now’s career it’s definitely the best live recording.

Emerging from some cosmic debris left behind by the ever journeying Planet Gong, Here and Now began life as a spacey, crusty, psychedelic, free festival-loving, prog outfit, sounding a little like Hillage playing with Hawkwind after listening to early punk.

What they didn’t take from punk was an adoption of the short song; and live they could play for what seemed like hours without ever changing track.

But as the eighties kicked in, Here and Now’s sound morphed and changed, as did their line up.
Their songs got shorter, more coherent, and dare one say, more accessible (but not commercial).
New wave had a big influence on their output, and keyboards, often playing ska-like riffs, became as important and intrinsic to their sound as the EBowed guitar.

This recording does capture what was billed as Here and Now’s last gig.
But they weren’t away long.
In fact they’re still doing it.

I don’t know what they’re thinking some of these bands.
I mean, what else are Keith the Bass and Kif Kif going to do?
Get jobs in Spar?
I don’t think so.

Here and Now – Been and Gone (1986)

Intro – 23 Skidoo
Fake It
Another Tense
Drifting Away
Ways to be Free
Spaces In Between
Satellite Kid
Jacques Cousteau
Last Chance

Excellent cassette rip @320kbs
Get far-out with the Here and Now band here

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Our Daily Crusty

There was an area of this sceptred isle that was ever subversive.
A space within the tranquility of the home county known as Berkshire - close to Reading, where the annual corporate music fest is held; not far from Newbury, home of the anti-bypass movement - called Hungerford; made known in recent times by the psychopathic shootist Michael Ryan.

But better than, and more deserving of interest than Ryan, are RDF, Radical Dance Faction, the anarcho-punk band who also originated from Hungerford (the trigger-happy Ryan almost prevented RDF from existing little beyond their conception in 1987, but I'll come on to that in a moment).

At the centre of the ever-transmogrifying line-up of RDF, is charismatic front-man, singer and poet, Chris Bowsher.

Dreadlocked, passionate and very, very serious, Bowsher, rather like the Fall's Mark E Smith, is the only full-time member of the band; in fact he is the band.
And still is.
Here is some excellent footage of Bowsher and co performing at last year's Skanival fesival in Wales:

I'm not sure why it is that a member of the audience feels the need to stand inches away from Bowsher as he sings, but it's admirable the way Chris carries on, showing no sign of disconcertion; but then again he was probably used to it, and the video, if nothing else, is evident of just how shambolic gigs within the anarcho-punk scene often are.
A health and safety nightmare, what!

RDF released several albums in the first part of the nineteen-nineties, and they were all well received. In fact, RDF were one of the few crusty bands who got any attention at all in the hipper than hip music press of the time.

They were a favourite on the live scene; and their gigs tended to be like mini-festivals; attracting a crowd that would readily turn the Sir George Robey (Finsbury Park) or The Boston Arms (Tufnell Park) into a temporary facsimile of the Stone Henge Festival.
Dogs n'all.

Taking Refuge is RDF's first release.
I think it's from 1987 (I can't even remember acquiring it, it must have been at a gig, but as you can tell, my memory is a bit hazy!), but it's been quite difficult to find out anything about it.
Which is gratifying in some ways, only being released on cassette, the lack of information suggests a rare status.

The sound and recording quality of this mini-album is quite superb.
So you can really whack up the volume and appreciate this most excellent piece of crusty-dub.
It just makes you want to bob back and forth.
You can't help yourself. Their music is very primal.

All the tracks are excellent, but the real stand-out tune for me is the dub-psyche-freak out 'Red Flame', where we hear RDF in full flight; and it still sounds amazing, without sounding at all dated.

As for Michael Ryan, well his actions are the inspiration behind the closing piece on the album: 'Hungerford Poem'.
While Ryan ran amok in the quiet town of Hungerford, Bowsher very nearly became one of his victims (Ryan killed seventeen (including himself, and his mother), and injured fifteen others on an indiscriminate killing spree during a boring Wednesday afternoon in August, 1987).
Bowsher's experience, and probably the feelings of many from that area at the time, are captured in this effecting spoken-word performance, and when you hear it, you know that his words are genuine; poetry emanating from someone who was really there.

It's an excellent piece of reportage; and it's an honest and quite remarkable piece of art

RDF - Taking Refuge

Tension Town
Shedding the Tears
Red Flame
Hungerford Poem

Immaculate cassette rip @ 320kbs
Get Radical here

Monday, 8 December 2008

Cup o' tea anyone?

You see a lot of Gong in the blogosphere; but this is an album you never see.
I felt that needed addressing.

This is a great retrospective album, featuring some excellently recorded performances; and if there’s one thing that seems to be severely lacking amongst the plethora of Gong material, it’s quality of sound.

After existing as a kind of guerrilla art movement attached to various protests and acts of disobedience in ideologically ravaged France at the end of the sixties, Gong signed up with up and coming new independent label Virgin Records in nineteen seventy-two.
Apparently, Branson believed in the band so much, he gave them preferential studio time over Mike Oldfield (an artist who would keep Virgin Records afloat over the next few years with absurd sales of his wishy-washy Tubular Bells).

Gong Live etc, the last album the band made for Virgin, captures live performances from the band’s associative years with the label; leaving a solid reminder of their energy and creativity over their short but prolific stay, showcasing their best material from the first half of that gaudy decade.

So this is to a certain extent a Greatest Hits album; but it’s better than that, as all the recordings here are unique to this release. And let’s face it, Gong didn’t have any Hits!
Which is why I always loved them.

The album is chronological in structure, beginning in 1973 with material from Camembert Electrique, moving through the Radio Gnome Trilogy of 1974, into the final period of the original conception in 75, post-Gong shaman Daevid Allen and High Priestess Gilli Smith, usurped by Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy.

The quality of sound is superb throughout, corrupted slightly by the odd crackle from my recording – you can’t have everything – but it is far superior to many live recordings of this band in existence.

It is often forgotten, amongst all the pot-head pixies, earth-mother magick, flying teapots and mantra chanting, that Gong were a mighty fine collective of musicians.
Whether it was Didier Malherbe’ superb sax playing, Pierre Moerlen’s athletic percussion, Gilli Smith’s creepy space whispers or Allen’s or Hillage’s breathtaking guitar playing (I don’t know what it is, but the glissando guitar (I think it’s just slide played with a glass finger[?]) creates some beautiful sounds), the listener is transcended and readily abducted to their crazy, vibrant planet of sound.
And the Planet Gong was a beautiful and remarkable place.

Gong - Live etc (1977)

You Can't Kill Me
Zero the Hero & the Witche's Spell
Flying Teapot
Dynamite/I am Your Animal
Est-Ce Que Je Suis
Ooby Scooby Doomsday or The D-Day DJ's got the DDT Blues
Radio Gnome Invisible
Oily Way
Outer Temple
Inner Temple
Isle of Everywhere
Get it Inner
Master Builder
Flying Teapot

Excellent cassette rip @ 320kbs
Grab a cuppa here

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Finnish Punks on Dope

Every now and then – I don’t mean to be disrespectful, just an observation – something quite wonderful and brilliant emerges from the Finnish milieu.

Sibelius, Jorma Kaukonen, Hanoi Rocks [!], Sielun Veljet [?].
Yeah, that’s right: Sielun Veljet.
And their album, Softwood Music: Under Slow Pillars, is one of my favourite records of all time.
Formed in the early eighties, Sielun Veljet began their career as a hard-nosed, post punk noise band singing only in Finnish and known for their quite spectacular live shows, some of which were reported to go on for more than four hours.
This album was the only album they made in English; and it was a radical departure from anything they had previously released.
It wasn’t just the change in language that made Softwood Music so different, Veljet’s sound had dramatically changed as well, adopting a more psychedelic, twisted folk flavour which worked incredibly well with Ismo Alanko’s remarkable and unique voice (think David Sylvian with bronchitis, after a heavy night of smoking cigars with Fidel Castro – although that doesn’t really do Alanko’s voice justice; as I said he’s unique, so it’s difficult to find a vocal simile).
I really don’t know what Poko Records’ strategy was when dealing with Sielun Veljet.The albums they released in Finnish were available in and out of Finland, and their album L’amourha (1985) sold reasonably well throughout Europe.
However, when the band came to release Softwood Music, Poko limited its distribution to within the confines of Finland; pretty odd for an album that was sung in the English language!
As a consequence of its commercial failure [!] the band split, making Softwood Music their last original release.
A real shame, as it was by far their best.
But I guess its best to go out with a bang; not a whimper.
I’m not sure why the band decided to change to the English language for this recording, except they do sing about very universal subject matter; and are perhaps singing in English for the same reason such bands as Can and Amon Düül sang in English.
I have no idea either as to why they radically changed their sound from a fairly generic hard, arty, post punk sound to this wonderful blend of full-on psychedelia and twisted folk, mixed up with some ragga beats and East European, Romany sounding strings, but I’m really glad they did.
And as for the instruments they use to achieve some of the sounds that accompany the songs, well I’m not sure, but some of them sound as if they could well be alive.
Something that did obviously happen to the band, which quite possibly had an effect on their sound, is they turned-on.
And they encouraged all their listeners to do the same:
‘Now’s the time for all the honest citizens to turn to
Now’s the time for all the honest citizens to turn to crime.’
The lyric then informs the listener as to how a bucket-bong is assembled and used, recommending its value, as ‘You’ll never have a better smoke’.
Overall, this has to be one of the most THC saturated albums ever made; way beyond the conventions of ‘Stoner’.
The stoned sounds heard here seem to drift and meander, wafting through space like clouds of pollen and kief.
The fact the album sounds like it was recorded in a mediaeval castle in the middle of a Finnish birch forest adds to its extremely twisted flavour; and the fact that it was actually recorded in a sound studio in Helsinki only goes to show that this is a masterful recording, and the arrangement and production of the album is quite superb.
Sielun Veljet - Softwood Music: Under Slow Pillars (1989)
Mushroom Moon
I Wanna be a Frog
Life is a Cobra
Woe! The Maiden of my Heart
Immortal Bliss
Evil Kübl
Vicious Waltz
Hey-Ho Red Banana!
The Beast has Taken Over in my Mind Again
Old Masterpiece
Living in a Twisted World
Immaculate vinyl rip @320kbs

I highly recommend this album.
Nearly everyone I have played this album to asks for a copy of it.
As I said, it is unique.
And hey, there’s just not enough nice surprises in life; so download yourself a right nice surprise here

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Give me an eff...

Yes. This post even took me by surprise.

But I love Country Joe.
Fish or no Fish.

I discovered Joe Macdonald’s music (the country prefix mimicked one of Stalin’s ‘pet names’) back in the late seventies; so his music was always in retrospect; but little did I know, as he was still doing it.

And he still is!

And he’s not stuck in the past; his lyrics are still deeply relevant, and so are his causes.
In fact, Joe has one of the more interesting voices of dissent heard in recent years.

Check this out:

As for this album, well, it’s a fantastic introduction to his music, and includes some brilliant live recordings unique to this release.

Part One is made up of the best of the Fish’s early material, and captures in sound the whole San Francisco, Haight-Ashbury, Monterey kind of vibe; full of love and peace, agit-prop, finger cymbals, pot, love songs to Janis Joplin, warnings about the taking of crystal meth and some quite beautiful music.

Part Two includes some wonderfully recorded live performances, captured at the end of the Fish’s career (they split in 1970, reforming in 77 for the Reunion album).

And despite the slightly reserved nature of Part One, the Fish really kicked arse during these live recordings.

Barry Melton’s guitar playing is quite superb; to say nothing of his vocal delivery; his voice on ‘Love’ is tonsil breaking and nerve shattering. Yeah, man, he really means it.

Marijuana was one of the big flavours of the day, and the Fish weren’t afraid to celebrate it at any opportunity.

My favourite moment on this album occurs during the transition between the tracks ‘Rock and Soul Music’ and ‘Love’.

‘Rock and Soul Music’ ends with a repeated chord played seven times, staccato-like. On the eighth beat, the whole band shout in unison: ‘marijuana’, which is the cue into ‘Love’.
Okay, sounds a bit complicated.
I guess you’ve got to hear it; but honestly, cracks me up every time.

The anthemic herb even gets its own song; and the whole band takes part in an absurdist paean to their favourite plant; resulting, of course, in Pythonesque disorder, breakdown and chaos.

The album opens and closes with the band’s most famous of tunes, ‘Fixing to Die Rag’, the first version from the beginning of their career, and the second from Woodstock, the end of their initial incarnation.

The track still raises a smile, and is still able, in all its cynicism, to make the listener feel a little contrite, and listening to it now, makes one feel a little disillusioned.

It reminds me that we blew it.
An opportunity lost.
And we are now paying the consequences.

Pretzel anyone?

Country Joe and the Fish - The Life and Times of Country Joe & the Fish: From Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock (1971)

Fixing to Die Rag
Bass Strings
Flying High
Porpoise Mouth
Untitled Protest
Who Am I
Waltzing in the Moonlight
Death Sound Blues
Sing Sing Sing
Not So Sweet Martha Loraine
Rock and Soul Music
Crystal Blues
Masked Marauder
Love Machine
Fixing to Die Rag

Excellent cassette rip @ 256kbs
Grab a whiff of the sixties here for Part One
Inhale with the Fish here for Part Two

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Smash those filthy records, get rid of them...

12"s. They come and they go.
Sometimes they're released and you have absolutely no awareness of their existence.
Many releases almost seem a secret.
They are ephemeral.
Rarely entering the charts, they are the equivalent of a novella compared to the novel.
They're not quite an album: but their more than a 7" or single release.

This release came hot on the tail of the massively innovative and inspiring Entroducing, an album made in its entirety from recorded music and samples that already existed; the first true act of bricolage in modern music (Solex, the Dutch musician is also considered to be a pioneer at this time, but she does sing over her constructed music, so Shadow really was the first true bricoleur).

DJ Shadow (Josh Davis to his mum) is one of those artists who is able to cross normally impenetrable territory and raise interest in those who would not normally bother to cock a snook at 'dance music'.

I have never seen him live - I find the idea of a DJ on a stage with a large audience gazing at him while he mixes slightly absurd - but I do love his music.

A friend of mine informed me - he did go to a DJ Shadow gig - that the decks and control panel are filmed and projected up on to a screen at the back of the stage; and the first thing that DJ Shadow does, obviously, is to place a stylus on to a spinning record.
There was a big close-up of this moment apparently, and as soon as the stylus landed and bit, the audience erupted, went totally berserk. Apparently.

As I previously mentioned, this release did follow in the shadow (ahem) of Entroducing, and the residual sound from Entroducing is certainly identifiable here.

The first cut, 'High Noon' takes a familiar, almost distinctly DJ Shadow tune and bigs it up with a big hooky, surf-type, cowboy-like guitar riff [!] and kind of goes to town with it.
The beats are all over the place, as it sounds like he's sampled half a dozen kits all playing at the same time; but they never become cacophonous; and that is very much down to his control and skill.

All of the tracks include speech samples; either as introductions, outros or dropped in and manipulated into the mix.
This works best on the track 'Devil's Advocate' where a bigotted fundamentalist can be heard damning rock n roll music due to its 'sexualizing' powers.

Shadow's manipulation of the lecturer's discourse diminishes his diatribe down to the level of a quivering jelly, turning his very words into a degenerate beat.

But the best track is the final cut: 'Organ Donor', which is my all time favourite DJ Shadow tune.
This mix is wonderfully produced; generously spaced and a masterpiece of editing.

It isn't the usual full-on assault that so many of Shadow's tracks end up being, and it could even be considered minimal in its structure; but the way the sounds are recorded is quite wonderful.

The organ sound is loaded with a synasthetic darkness, removing it totally from the atmosphere of a tea dance or a pensioner-targeted gig in the park.
Juxtaposed with the manic scratching; so manic it creates a singular sound; and the wonderfully captured cymbal and snare beats, the mix is quite extraordinary; even for the Shadow.

DJ Shadow - High Noon (1997)

High Noon
Devil's Advocate (heaven v. Hell - Bonus Beat)
Organ Donor (Extended Overhaul)

Vinyl rip @ 320kbs
Gotta be really; be disrespectful otherwise.
Visit the Shadow Land here

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Got a light, Bud?

I've been listening to a fair bit of Black Uhuru lately, inspired in part by some recent posts from the Dust Devil over at YoungMossTongue; including an album I have wanted to replace for a long time: Black Sounds of Freedom. Fantastic.

So here is the procrastinator's anthem, Sinsemilla, and in my humble opinion, Black Uhuru's greatest release.

Black Uhuru began their career in Jamaica in the late seventies; they mainly sang civil rights' songs (Uhuru is Swahili for freedom), but soon broadened into more conventional reggae territory; however, with the addition of Puma Jones's voice, their sound was soon to become uniquely distinctive.

They created some fantastic music throughout their career, but their early albums are those that really shine.

And once Michael Rose had departed in 85, well, Duckie and co did go on, but the dynamic of sound was never the same.

Rose's voice on this album is quite phenomenal, the way he gargles those vowels - his delivery on 'There is Fire' is extraordinary - far superior to any stereotypical French rural accent.

The rhythm section here is the wonderful pairing of Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar, and their sound had evolved into the tightest of units; seamlessly woven into a single entity, really showcased well on this release.

Indeed, I believe Sinsemilla is Sly and Robbie's finest moment.

The bass and percussion just bubbles, boiling mud-like; creating a buoyant foundation for piano, guitar, voice and desk.

I say desk, because as with so many reggae cuts, the desk, the mix and the production is just as much an integral part of the band's identity in sound as the musicianship; and Sly and Robbie, with their hands on the knobs, were masters of the genre.

And let's face it, reggae isn't the easiest of genres to be entirely original; but Black Uhuru created a unique and identifiable sound.

It still sounds vital and timeless now.
For nothing has really followed it.

The Punky Reggae Party is dead.
Long live the Punky Reggae Party.

Black Uhuru - Sinsemilla (1980)

World is Africa
Push Push
There is Fire
No Loafing (Sit and Wonder)

Nice cassette rip @ 256kbs
Score some Sinsemilla here

Thursday, 27 November 2008

It's a nice sound, it's a happy sound, and it's er not doing anybody any harm

I like Chumbawamba.
I’ve always liked them, despite their irritating tub thumping.

And this is my favourite.

I had narrowed it down to this and Never Mind the Ballots, but in the end Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records is definitely the best Chumbawamba album.

Never Mind the Ballots is too much a product of its time; too plugged in to its own zeitgeist, and unless you were there, so to speak, it sounds a little like a historical tract.

Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, however, has travelled through time incredibly well, and sounds as vital today – especially in our present state of economic crisis and potential ideological meltdown (those living under the Soviet Union didn’t think it could happen either) – as it did on release in 1986.

This album should be on the school curriculum.
It’s not preachy, but it does make you think.
And that’s no bad thing.
Is it?

But really, has music ever changed anything?
After all, I don’t ever remember Curtis Lemay admitting that Charlie wasn’t so bad once 'All You Need is Love' had been piped round the world.

Music is really only important in the moment.
And I’m sure those who sang 'Feed the World' along with Sir Bob & co back in 1985 sincerely felt the world was gaining sustenance merely from their heartfelt harmonious exhalation.

But music really only connects with those who listen; and those who listen tend to be the last people that should be listening, because they know it all ready.
So protest music is merely rhetoric, and the audience nod and agree with everything that is being said.

But that said, we love it.

And I love this.

And Chumbawamba used a trumpet long before Belle and Sebastian or Ian Brown.
Which is another thing I love about them.

The stand out tracks here are numerous; but the longer more complex songs such as ‘How to Get Your Band on Television’, with its wonderful ‘Slag Aid’, are superb:

“In keeping with the fashion of charity, not change
Here’s our contribution, we’ve called it Slag Aid
For every Pop Star that we slag off today
A million pounds will be given away!”

Followed by a ‘slagging off’ of all the household favourites, concluding with a masterful attack on Cliff (choral sounds, intense light) Richard:

“On behalf of our viewers watching on telly
And on behalf of the millions with empty bellies
We’re donating something special that we’re all going to like
Cliff Richard, we’re going to nail you up to a cross tonight.”

The song cycle ends with a repeated refrain which keeps “on going round”, and the only way out of the repetitive cycle is to “burn the house of commons to the ground”.
Seems like a fairly logical solution when it’s put so eloquently…

‘Unilever’, adopting a punk riff and an in your face guide to ethical shopping, only adds to the vitriol and contrition.
Also features a great chuck at the end!

But as always, Chumbawamba are terribly slippery when it comes to being shoved into a genre, as they move from punk to folk to satirical variety numbers.

And why not?
O yeah, and I adore the Tony Blackburn sample.

Chumbawamba - Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records (1986)

How to Get Your Band on Television
British Colonialism and the BBC
Commercial Break
More Whitewashing
An Interlude, Beginning to Take it back
Dutiful Servants and Political Masters
And in a Nutshell: 'Food Aid is our Most Powerful Weapon'

Vinyl rip @256kbs
There are some pops during the quiet bits, but they're few and far between.
But hey, it is a Porky Prime Cut,
so get yourself a slice here

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Definitely Not the Surf Band

The driving train-like rhythm that opens this album transports me straight back to the nineteen eighties.

Squatted apartments in Stamford Hill, Stoke Newington, Hackney: dark despairing dens occupied by lurchers, disparate people, paranoia, nihilism and hate.

Mark Astronaut had an ability to crystallize those times; a true Hogarth in sound, revealing a vivid and authentic snapshot of that bleak, cynical, destructive period.

He had an incredibly keen eye; an acute power of observation, and a Pepys-like mode of expression: witty, cynical, self-deprecating, often sublime and often deeply provocative.

Through his objectivity and an outsider's stance and view, he was able to reveal the truth, dismissing romantic ideas, whether to do with ideology or action, and really tell it as it was; capturing and realizing the genuine feelings and attitudes of Thatcher's bastard children

Mark Astronaut, like the greatest of artists, 'reported back'; but it's the way he 'reported back' that really makes him stand out.

Provocative as the lyrics are, The Astronauts really adopted an apolitical position.
Anarchists and Marxists may have adopted the band, but in no way did the band propagandize.

It is in The Astronauts' sound that the link can readily be made between punk rock and folk music; for urban folk is what The Astronauts created, and with much folk music, poetry plays a big part.

Maybe you've never heard The Astronauts.
And maybe you think this is all rhetoric based on my own nostalgic view.
But honestly, Mark Astronaut was a genuine outsider poet, and his music and his band were definitely one of the more authentic sounds of the post punk period.
If you like music from this genre and period; music that attempted to be serious and provocative, then this is well worth having a listen to.

This album from 1986 is a great introduction to their music; it's also an album you never see (there are others, mainly the excellent Peter Pan Hits the Suburbs, available on other blogs).
Soon showcases new material (for 86) and repackages a couple of early 7" releases: The Astronauts e.p. from 79, and Pranksters in Revolt released in 1980.

Mark's voice is rather like that of Fairport's Dave Swarbrick (told you they had a folky flavour); the music is very punk on the early recordings (think The Mob or Subhumanz); but with the addition of a sax, the recordings from 85 sound a little like Inner City Unit, but more... what? Organic. Earthy, somehow.

If there is any interest in this album, I have more.
And I'd be really interested to hear your impressions or memories of this excellent band...

The Astronauts - Soon (1986)

Friends (1985)
Books (1985)
Blues for a Sceptic (1985)
The Birds (1985)
Following Orders (1985)
Survivors (1979)
All Night Party (1979)
Young Man's World (1980)
We Were Talking (1980)

Vinyl rip @256kbs
Be amazed by the view from outer space; get The Astronauts here

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Token Music

In my formative years as an avid music enthusiast my access to the rock world was via the weekly publication Sounds.
I began with Melody Maker, but it was aimed at those who were interested in what strings Richie Blackmore favoured; I tried NME but couldn't understand when reading a review of a Stranglers' gig why the author was deconstructing the life and works of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard.
Sounds was just right.

And long before the days of cover mounts, these weeklies that adopted the portentous style of broadsheet newspapers, would entice their readers into getting their hands on free music by publishing collectible tokens on a weekly basis for a month or so.
Save 'em up, send 'em off, and hey, about two months later you get your free record through the post.

Which is how I came to be in possession of this.
And I still love it.

Released in 1978, the Sounds Album Vol 3: Can't Start Dancin' was a collaboration with Stiff Records, one of the more exciting of the new wave of independent record labels that were rapidly springing up on the back of punk ideology and enthusiasm.

Fourteen tracks, performed by seven Stiff artists; beginning with their big home grown star, Ian Dury, who gives away his first single release with the Blockheads: 'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll ', and that excellent anthem to hedonism was juxtaposed with the equally wonderful 'Razzle in my Pocket', the single's original flipside, and my favourite all time Dury track.

Back in 1985, I shouted myself hoarse at Glastonbury during one of Ian Dury's frequent reunions with the Blockheads, demanding they perform 'Razzle in my Pocket'.
They didn't.
I wonder if that was the reason why lots of people threw mud at them...

But if you've never heard the track; a witty monologue, with the narrator telling the story of how he went 'out on the nick' in 'Romford', and what happened to him when he 'put his thieving hand on something rude', well, find out the rest for yourself.
I'm not gonna spoil it for you.

Mickey Jupp is next to belt out a couple of songs, showing how punk allowed for a lot of fringe and peripheral musicians to gain some appropriate attention.
Produced by Nick Lowe, Mickey Jupp, as a member of the ambiguous pub rock genre, suddenly became interesting after being in the music business since the early sixties.
And his songs included here reveal just how professional and tight many of the pub circuit musicians were at this time, as they're both really fine numbers.

The real highlight of the collection can be heard next, courtesy of a pre-'Stop the Cavalry' Jona Lewie, with his wonderful song 'Denny Laine's Valet'.
I have listened to this song on and off for the last thirty years, and I still haven't got a clue as to what the fuck he is going on about, but it really is true genius.

Wreckless Eric's contributions are a couple of typifying numbers that capture the excitement of his early songs. Destined to be massive by Stiff, he shyed away from the manner in which they marketed and promoted him; and became one of the most peripheral of all cult singer songwriters, seemingly enjoying his less than commercial relationship with the music industry.

The track 'Semaphore Signals' that appears on this collection was produced by Ian Dury, and a fine job he made of it; it really is one of Eric's stand out tunes from this part of his career.

Talking of expectancy and the desire for big things, Rachel Sweet was also heavily promoted by Stiff as being the next Patti Smith or something.
Listening to her sickly voice now, it's amazing that she even made the Stiff roster, let alone being singled out for success.

(I guess like Branson's Virgin camped just down the road from Stiff, what everybody really wanted was number ones. Branson got lucky with 'God Save the Queen', Stiff made it with Dury's 'Rhythm Stick', but they kept on promoting more 'commercal' artists, this I believe was responsible for a lot of ex-Stiff artists recalling unhappy times with the label.)

Sweet was a kind of indie Britney figure.
Peaches she wasn't.
Where is she now, I wonder?

Lena Lovich on the other hand had a pretty successful career.
Starting as a funk singer in the early seventies, the English, Serbian, America-born artist was soon convinced by Stiff to adopt a punky look.
It paid off, and she achieved a commercial hit with the upbeat song 'Lucky Number'.

I gained a free ticket one time to see her perform at the Lyceum in Hammersmith.
I left after two numbers and chanced my luck at getting into the Odeon down the street where Blue Oyster Cult were playing.
I failed.
Would I have left the Lena Lovich gig if the ticket wasn’t free?
Probably, yeah.

Her second track here really sounds like it should have been included on the Broken Glass soundtrack; as Lovich performs a magnificent impersonation of Hazel O'Connor.

The Rumour, a support band for many solo artists of this time, were normally associated with singer Graham - 'Hey Lord don't ask me Questions' - Parker.
It does sound like Parker sings lead on the first of their tracks here, but I'm unable to verify this.

The Rumour are yet another example of a band that were really known from the pub circuit - it must be said, the pub music scene was thriving at that time, and venues such as The Hope and Anchor in Islington, The Red Cow in Hammersmith and The Falcon in Camden Town were the best places to see cutting edge, wild and often innovative performances in London in the mid to late seventies.

The Rumour's second track on this collection, 'Loving You is Far Too Easy', reminds me of this time probably more than any other track on the album; as it was a sound so indicative of those times; even more so than more successful bands such as The Damned or The Dickies.

7 Stiff Artists - The Sounds Album Vol 3: Can't Start Dancin' (1978)

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll - Ian Dury & the Blockheads
Razzle in my Pocket - Ian Dury & the Blockheads
Making Friends - Mickey Jupp
You Made a Fool Out of Me - Mickey Jupp
Denny Laine's Valet - Jona Lewie
I'll Get By in Pittsburgh - Jona Lewie
Semaphore Signals - Wreckless Eric
I Wish it Would Rain - Wreckless Eric
I'll Watch the News - Rachel Sweet
Cuckoo Clock - Rachel Sweet
Monkey Talk - Lene Lovich
Momentary Breakdown - Lene Lovich
All Fall Down - The Rumour
Loving You is Far Too Easy - The Rumour

Get a copy of this never commercially released Stiff sampler as a vinyl rip @256kbs here

If anyone has got a clue as to what the hell 'Denny Laine's Valet' is all about, I'd love an inkling...

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Profane Thrill

I was fourteen years old.

I had my seventy-nine pence, and I could finally go and buy the record I had heard played a few days before in my local Harlequin Records store.

I approached the counter, attracted the attention of the ever-so-trendy bored looking member of staff, who gazed at me in my school uniformed adolescent state with absolute disdain.
He was no doubt expecting me to ask for a copy of ‘Staying Alive’ or something.

But then came my big moment:

“Have you got ‘Fuck Off’, please?”

Much to my delight, the desirably monikered tune came pressed into grey vinyl, and it had three other tracks on it. Wicked!

Of course, ‘Fuck Off’ is an absolute punk rock classic; but listening to this e.p. now, it’s amazing how close the Electric Chairs sounded to the 60's garage bands that became familiar to a lot of us British folk through the Nuggets collection.

And that’s right where the song ‘Night Time’ came from, originally by the ‘I Love Candy’ band: the Strangeloves.

The Chairs' version is equally as good as the original, and County’s spiteful, yet distinctly camp voice delivers it perfectly.

‘Toilet Love’ is an anthem to cottaging, and I’m still waiting for George Michael to release it for his next big comeback.

The e.p. finishes with ‘Mean Motherfuckin’ Man’, a kick-arse number in an appropriate MC5/Stooges style.
I just love the way County adds asides to [at that time] his lyric; voicing kitsch disgust and disapproval at what is being revealed.

Wayne County was a great character; and Jayne’s even more wonderful and bizarre.
Long may s/he reign.

Wayne County and the Electric Chairs - Blatantly Offensive e.p. (1978)

Fuck Off
Night Time
Toilet Love
Mean Motherfuckin' Man

Get this Vinyl rip @256kbs without the embarrassment or thrill of having to ask for it over the counter here

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Babylon Cashing In

Despite its 5th form art project-like cover, this album is selling for £350 on Amazon's Market Place!

So I figured I'd post it here, as I'm in a dancing mood; and it's a nice compliment to the New Age Steppers; and Jeez, nobody should have to pay three-hundred and fifty pounds for an album. That's obscene.

Misty in Roots, a collective formed in Southall, London, in the mid-seventies (I believe the music collective was set-up by the Manpower Services Commission; a scheme designed to get people into work, and in pre-Thatcher Britain, if you could convince those working at the social security office that you were destined to be an artist or pop star, then they would accommodate you, and pay for your set of brushes or drum kit, or whatever, and even provide you a space to practice in. Halcyon days...) were one of the best of the British roots and reggae bands.

To see them live was a wonderful experience, and I was fortunate enough to see them a couple of times; once in London, and again, a truly magnificent performance at Glastonbury festival in 1985, where they turned a very soggy, cold and muddy, fucked-up rainy afternoon into one of the best parties I've ever attended.

They played on the smaller stage, Stage 2 (this was quite early days at Glastonbury, and the imaginatively titled branded stages hadn't been conceived yet), and completely packed out the allocated audience space.

Steel Pulse had played the main Pyramid stage earlier on in the day, and had hardly any audience at all.
Two things can be learned from this, I feel, if you're ever thinking of putting on a festival and want reggae music to be a part of it:
1. don't put reggae bands on before three o'clock in the afternoon.
And 2. don't put reggae bands on a great big stage, fifteen feet up in the air.
Reggae and roots music is intimate, the audience need to be close; for the audience is what makes the reggae gig.

This album from 1982, is just that, very, very intimate.
The lyrics here are deeply spiritual; prayer-like in some respects.
Some songs, 'Bail Out', 'Wise and Foolish', are parables; didactic, evangelical almost.

But don't be put off.
Misty in Roots' sound is crucial, tight and wonderfully soulful and celebratory.

The horns and brass that accompany the songs are softly blown.
And apart from the occasional kick arse all-out dub workout - listen in awe to the final two minutes of 'Live Up' - the band are perfectly restrained; and work brilliantly as a single unit.

All the songs here wonderfully evoke those times of the punky reggae party that was so much part of the late seventies-early eighties period; whether it was in London or way out in a field in the middle of nowhere; or Wiltshire as it is known.

The one track that does seem a little out of place on this album is the song 'Jah Bless Africa'. However, this song is a response to the Zeitgeist of the early eighties, and was Misty's homage to the ANC, as the song 'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika' (the song Misty reinterpreted) was their anthem.
In fact the song was banned in apartheid South Africa, and was always associated with and sung rebelliously by the oppressed.
It is now South Africa's national anthem.

Despite the fact that those who made up Misty in Roots got together in London, their music harked back to the classic Caribbean 70's roots sound (think early Black Uhuru, Dennis Bovell, Jimmy Cliff), and there was also a distinct acknowledgment of their true roots: Africa.
Their version of 'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika' was part of their outward expression of allegiance, and the track 'Slavery Days' only furthered their connection with their own heritage and past.

This album connects me with my own past.

But then I guess that's what all music does.

Misty in Roots - Wise and Foolish (1982)

Bail Out
City Blues
Wise and Foolish
Live Up
Life Boat
Slavery Days
Jah Bless Africa
Peace and Love

You can go to Amazon and buy this for £350.
Or you can get this vinyl rip @256kbs for free.
Mine is a little crackly,
but not enough to ruin anyone's pleasure.
And hey, it ain't £350.
So save yourself an awful lot of money and play Misty for yourself here

Monday, 17 November 2008

Step It Up

The second New Age Steppers' album is far less textured and multi-layered than both the first and the third of their releases.
Here they sound much more like a conventional roots outfit; except, as a band they were always a good few steps ahead of anyone else working in the genre at the time.

And this maybe an album of covers, but with Ari Up singing on the majority of the tracks, and with Adrian Sherwood (the 1980's alternative music version of Mark Ronson) twiddling the knobs, you just know it's going to be good.

The album kicks off with what is probably the best known of the Steppers' tracks: 'My Whole World'; a gorgeous eco-conscious song that allows Ari to really show off her vocal dexterity.
She achieves real sonic proportions on this album; makes my dogs go berserk.

Probably the best example of Ari's sonic capabilities can be 'heard' on the only dub track on the album, the amazing, and a little scary, 'Nuclear Zulu'; a track that features one of the most far-out dub mixes ever heard.
Sounds seem to come from everywhere, and sounds are introduced through reverberation as much as they, in the conventional manner, decay. The guitar seems to emanate from inside your head.
It's very freaky. Good for spinning round and round to.

Often referred to as psychedelic dub, Sherwood's production and mixing style grew from what he'd learned from the likes of Scientist and King Tubby, mixed up with a healthy dose of punk rock; and being blessed with those ever so important magic ears that all innovative producers have, and voila! the very distinctive sound that became so indicative of On-U Sounds.

O yeah, and dedication and pragmatism. They're pretty important features for a producer to have, too.

Apart from 'Nuclear Zulu' Ari sings all the songs except 'My Love', where Neneh Cherry takes the vocal helm, strongly supported by Bim Sherman's lush backing vocals.

As well as her voice moving outside of the range of normal human perception, we also hear Ari sing in her native German on the wunderbar track: 'Problems', that extends itself into a classic dub workout.

The album finishes with a haunting version of the Heptones' song 'Guiding Star'. Ari showing that she has a soulful side, and when she has to sing in key, straight, she's as good as anyone.
Check out her website - she's still a very busy person

Despite the variation in line-up for 'My Love', this does sound much more like a band's album than a collective effort.
And despite the high quality of material on this album, it did make their next album, Foundation Steppers, sound years ahead; but that was the nature of the times, I guess, technology in the early eighties, probably more than any other time, was allowing new sounds and new ways of generating and manipulating sounds to be added to the producer's palette.

New Age Steppers heard here:
George Oban
Tony Phillips
Eskimo Fox
Ari Up
Neneh Cherry
Bim Sherman

New Age Steppers - Action Battlefield (1982)

My Whole World
Observe Life
Got to Get Away
My Love
Nuclear Zulu
Guiding Star

Excellent quality cassette rip @256kbs
Keep on stepping here

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Third Step to Heaven

A beautiful album by the best reggae and dub collective that ever existed.

This was the third album the Steppers cut for Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sounds label. All of their material is wonderful, but I think this one is my definite favourite.

Back in 1983, when this album was recorded, Sherwood's label was a big hit with those amongst the underground and alternative scene. With a roster of some of the greatest reggae and dance acts around, Sherwood released not only the New Age Steppers, whose first album was the first On-U Sound's release, but Lee Perry, Tackhead, Mark Stewart, Dub Syndicate, Asian Dub Foundation, African Head Charge and others.
The label was instrumental in creating a new wave of interest and a new wave of sound in roots and dub music.

Sherwood had magic ears and magic fingers; and he also had an uncanny knack for juxtaposing perfectly the right voice with the right musicians.
This album has two excellent examples of Sherwood's magical harmonious concoctions, as he brings in for vocal roles the wonderfully charismatic Ari Up (John Lydon's step daughter and ex-Slit) and the angelically voiced Bim Sherman.

Ari makes the two real stand-out tracks on the album: 'Some Love' - "It really gets you down, down, down" - a fantastic opener that really sets the mood - yeah, kick the furniture (and the dog) out of the way, crank up the bass and start skanking, basically.
Her second song is the best reggae cover you'll ever hear, as the Steppers get down and knock out an amazing version of the 1930's classic 'Stormy Weather'.
You'll be singing it forever. "Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky...".

The late Bim Sherman joined the Steppers for four tracks on this album, and they're all gorgeous.
But his voice on 'Dreamers' is just incredible, proving that his loss in 2000 was a massive one to reggae and roots music; he undoubtedly had one of the greatest and most original voices in the genre.

The other tracks on here are all dub numbers, and its in these instrumentals that the brilliance of the Steppers' musicianship really shines.
The horns on this album are superbly mixed and blended - and you can't often say that about horns - reminiscent of one of the Steppers' contemporaries, another great band from the time, and possibly the greatest live reggae band ever: the majestic Misty in Roots.

The dub on this album is not as outlandish or as freaky as it was on their previous recording, Action Battlefield, but the more reserved nature of these tracks makes for an easier listen (some of the Steppers' dub can be downright scary), and makes them a darn sight easier to dance to.
And you will. Even the true anarchists amongst you - coz anarchists don't dance, right - but you will. You will.

New Age Steppers here are:
drums: Style Scott
percussion: Bonjo I
electric percussion: Eskimo
lead vocals: Ari Up; Bim Sherman
harmony vocals: Ginger; Bim; Ari; Eskimo; Joseph; sis Judah
bass: Crucial Tony; Errol Flabba Holt; George Oban
lead guitar: Dwight; Crucial Tony; Derek
rhythm guitar: Crucial Tony; Bingy Bunny
piano: Bubblers; Steely
organ: Bubblers; Kishi; Nick Plytas; Doctor Pablo
horns: Vin Gordon; Bammy
Chinese lute: Kishi

New Age Steppers - Foundation Steppers (1983)

Some Love
5 Dog Race
Misplaced Love
Stormy Weather
Vice of my Enemies

This is an immaculate vinyl rip @256kbs.
Put on your dancing boots and start skanking here

Friday, 14 November 2008

For all the happy Poison Girls

I’m tired of crying for the underprivileged
For the blacks, the women, for even black women
For the starving children, for the Irish, I’m tired of crying
For the unemployed, the one eyed Jews, I’m tired of crying
For refugees, for amputees, I’m tired of crying
For the pain of the third world, the poor unfortunates
Hiroshima, Bikini, I’m tired of crying
America, America, I’m tired of crying for America.

I’m tired of crying for collecting boxes, for noble causes, for victims, more victims
Victims of violence and protection, victims of privilege, more violence, more victims
For teachers’ lies, for poisoned milk, I’m tired of crying, it changes nothing
For the abuse of sex, the endless rape, the decay, the decaying, I’m tired of crying
For the broken broken broken hopes, the broken hearts and promises
For the broken backs and the broken dreams, I’m tired of crying
It’s a savage world, a savage world, and I just want to cry for me.

Cry No More, Vi Subversa, 1982.

There is a slight sense of resignation on this album.
Disillusion with the cause?
Despair with the left and the dialectic squabbles?
Nihilism within the anracho-punk movement?

But there is also a sense of maturity.
Self-preservation and concerns about the individual are more noticeable here than heard in the Poison's earlier material, and Vi’s lyrics are less vitriolic, less spat.
She seems more reflective, more poetic, and her delivery benefits from the adopted mood.

The big targets are still apparent: Rio Tinto Zinc, warmongery, gender stereotyping and surveillance are all attacked in typical Poison Girls’ fashion; but the polemics are accompanied by fairly bouncy upbeat tunes.

The evident maturity is not only heard in the lyrics, but is also apparent in the musicianship: check out Richard Famous’s acoustic picking during the track ‘Mandy is having a Baby’.

And with the addition of Chris Grace’s superb fretless bass playing on many of the tracks, the Poisons get quite funky on this album; and many of the tracks are distinctly dance numbers.

The accompanying brass on several tunes really adds to the general funky flavour; but if anything, it’s a kind of post punk funk [!]; and it’s interesting that this album was released in 1982, a year before 23 Skidoo released their seminal ‘post punk funk classic’: ‘Coup’.

This was the last album the Poisons made before bringing in a keyboard player, which radically changed and affected their sound – not for the good, in my opinion.

So this album has a special place in my heart; as I consider it to be the last album the Poison Girls (as I knew and loved them) made; and for me, they went out with a bang.

Poison Girls – Where’s the Pleasure (1982)

Where’s the Pleasure
Lovers are they worth it
I’ve done it all before
Whisky Voice
Ménage Abattoir
Take the Toys
Soft Touch
Take the Toys (Reprise)
Velvet Launderette
Rio Disco Stink
Cry No More
Mandy is having a Baby
Fear of Freedom

Vinyl rip @ 256kbs
This album has not had a CD release.
(It has collectively as part of a Poisons' box set, but not as a single release - thanks, anon.)
There is a little surface noise occasionally on this recording - but only during the quiet bits!
It has been very, very loved.
Love it too here

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Zip A Dee Dada

Ever wondered where experimental and alternative recorded music originated?
Well, if you were like me and believed it began with 'Revolution No.9', you may be surprised to know that it began about sixty years before that; beginning in fact around one hundred years ago.

And don't these guys look like they're having a ball? What with their psychedelic sound system, levers and whatnot.

It must be said that this isn't an easy listen.
This is a challenging, but very rewarding album, as it assembles the best of the early futurist recordings - but dated, it ain't.
Some of these tunes and soundscapes could easily have turned up or turn up on an album by the Beatles, the Mothers, the Butthole Surfers, The Fall, Coil or Nurse With Wound.

Way back in 1909, 'Futurist godhead Filipo Tomasso Marinetti recognised that the Futurist ideology would include sound and noise in the armoury of the war against traditionalism.
The Roar of a motor car, he claimed, was more beautiful than any Michaelangelo'.

I recommend listening to this album while watching TV with its sound muted.

The piano pieces work especially well, as they do sound a little like silent movie accompaniments - and it really doesn't matter what you're watching, it always works - that's the thing with sound and vision, I guess: it always works.

The vocal tracks on this album are truly bizarre.
And we all thought Mark E Smith was unusual.
But he sounds mainstream compared with Marinetti, who sounds a little like the Crazy Frog after its been held down and shot-up with methedrine.

Drone, sludge, no-wave, I thought these were modern genres until I heard Luigi Russolo's material - he seems to be the Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) of the Futurist generation - capturing perfectly in sound a really scary bad trip, two decades or so before Hoffman had even put his bicycle clips on.

But for sheer totally freakiness, the climax of the album, Marinetti's 'Five Radio Sintesi', cannot be topped.
It's a kind of 'Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast' meets Peter Blegvad.
A composition full of ambient sounds, cut-ups, pauses (the most difficult of all 'sounds' to listen to) and some masterful editing; conjuring an hallucinogenic soundscape mainly created by twiddling knobs on a radio (and I thought John Cage was original...).

This is Musique Concrète of the highest order.

CD artwork included.
I have also included a copy of the excellent, highly informative booklet that accompanies this wonderful collection.

Give it a try - you'll be amazed.
Board the hobby-horse here.