Sunday, 31 July 2011

Be Back Soon ...

Having successfully completed the YHO around-the-world disco challenge (the findings of which can be downloaded as a delightful pdf) it’s time to take a breather. In other words, before setting out on a new adventure, it’s time to press ‘pause’.

Be assured, however, there are still plenty of rabbit holes to disappear down, so the YHO explorations will continue. In fact, there are a jumble of ideas and a tangle of leads which are being made sense of even as you read this holding message. And sometime soon this should all emerge as a new edition of YHO.

You see, I really do still believe passionately that investigating the past illuminates the present, and YHO remains very much about secret histories, chance discoveries, unexpected connections, that enable us to put things together in a new way and challenge existing narratives. That’s about enlightenment. It’s got nothing to do with nostalgia.

I was trying to think up something smart to leave you with, and then stumbled across this video of the UK group Cool Notes, who started out as a London lovers rock group in the late ‘70s and then had a glorious string of hits in the mid-‘80s with more of a modern soul/funk sound on the wonderfully named Abstract Dance label. Somehow that seems to draw together a number of strands from recent adventures. And this video has London written all over it …

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Disco No Disco Yes

Disco No Disco Yes is the latest edition of Your Heart Out and it can be downloaded free for all. It collects together the articles written as part of The Disco Ball's a Globe series. This adventure was prompted by a realisation that in its way the disco phenomenon of the late '70s was essentially a force for good in a mad world intent on tearing itself apart. The music and its universal symbols (e.g. a spinning disco ball or a Roland synthesizer) were civilising influences, and contrast sharply with the influence of nationalism, religion and political parties. And let's face it, there was some incredibly inventive and uplifting music created under the universal banner of disco. This series celebrates some of those sounds. So, grab your silk stockings and your dance invitation ...

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 15

No matter how rewarding it may be exploring elsewhere, it’s good to get back home. And sometimes when you examine what’s on your doorstep you find it hard to believe the treasures hidden there. So, for example, I recently stumbled across a Marti Caine track from 1981, called Snowbird City, which had a gorgeous disco/lovers rock thing going on. It reminded me of the Carly Simon/Chic collaboration on Why, but it seemed to be from a year or so earlier. The indications were that this was from an LP of Marti’s, Point of View, overseen by Barry Blue, which made a bit more sense. Barry may have enjoyed success as a teeny bop idol, but he was also a songwriter and producer of some stature. He was certainly no stranger to disco, having produced the early Heatwave LPs. He’d also made functional and familiar disco recordings with his fellow former Bell Records heartthrob Miki Anthony for the Bruton Music Library, including what are now much sought-after tracks on the Disco Happening LP.

Marti herself at the time would have been one of the stalwart stars of British light entertainment, a regular on TV variety shows, and a big success on the cabaret circuit with her singing, dancing and comic turns. So in a way it’s no surprise she made some disco recordings. I suspect pretty much everyone who did a bit of singing on the TV variety shows recorded some disco flavoured material in the late ‘70s or in the very early ‘80s. A lot of it is quality stuff, which sounds genuinely great now – not in an ironic or camp way - because they were good singers with access to decent songwriters, musicians, arrangers, studios and session players. And the kick, swish and orchestral swing of disco suited such artists naturally. You just may not come across mentions of such sounds in the books on the history of disco. But those of us who prefer some songs by The Dooleys or The Nolans to, say, hits by Heaven 17 or ABC take a certain delight in unearthing hidden examples of ‘variety show’ disco.

I guess you could call these disco recordings ‘adult oriented’, but I know that term’s been co-opted by Prins Thomas & co. and refers more to the overlap between AOR and disco on US radio. This is something different. I guess very few of the tracks mentioned here were hits, and some languished as b-sides or album fillers. But there is a distinct charm that raises the recordings to another level. While perhaps not every track featured here transformed disco in the same way as Scott Walker did on Nite Flights, there is nevertheless much to celebrate.

The disco phenomenon certainly gave the old school Brit girls a new lease of life. Tucked away on a 1977 b-side, for example, is a gorgeous Cilla Black recording of Kenny Lynch’s Keep Your Mind On Love. The track was produced by Mike Hurst, and his old colleague Dusty Springfield also made a magnificent disco recording in 1979, Baby Blue, which just about reached the very bottom reaches of the charts. In 1983 Kenny Lynch, incidentally, had his own eyebrow-raising delayed disco smash with the astonishing Half The Day Is Gone And We Haven’t Earned A Penny. Lulu it could be said had a little more of a disco pedigree than most of her variety show contemporaries, having worked with Kenny Nolan at Chelsea in the mid-‘70s, and getting a hit with Take Your Mama For A Ride. Towards the end of the decade she may have been a fixture on light entertainment circuit, but she did also make a great LP, produced by Elton John for his Rocket label. Among the highlights of this lost LP is Nice And Slow, which was one of the tracks from Elton’s 1976 Thom Bell sessions which were ‘shelved’ for many years, oddly.

If you were going to generalise about variety show disco then you might mention a mature singer having a whale of a time dancing their way through the number thoroughly enjoying the company of a group of dancers of the opposite sex trying not to look too ridiculous. Something for everyone, you might say. Hunt around on the internet, and you’ll find a particularly fine example of this featuring Clodagh Rodgers singing Your Love Is Deep Inside of Me. Others of, shall we say, a similar vintage managed to keep it a little more ‘real’ like Elkie Brooks with a gloriously sophisticated take on soft disco with tracks like Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Of the new generation Lorraine Chase had a very different career trajectory to Elkie, and found fame via adverts for Campari. As a family favourite she had the chance to make a novelty disco record and eerily 'invented' Lily Allen on It's Nice 'Ere Innit, which was arranged and conducted by Roger Webb, and it shows.

There are so many great examples of ‘experienced’ pop acts naturally adapting to a disco sound, when they wanted to. ELO’s Last Train To London, Paul McCartney & Wings’ Goodnight Tonight, Mike Oldfield with Guilty, the Glitter Band with Makes You Blind, and so on. But it was really the Bee Gees that changed the whole game with Jive Talking and everything that came after. And naturally Bee Gees connections and covers became a vital part of the adult contemporary disco equation. Australian singer Samantha Sang was blessed by the Brothers and so had a hit with the gorgeous Emotions. Yvonne Elliman had If I Can’t Have You. And Blonde On Blonde covered the Bee Gees’ Subway quite beautifully. Not to be confused with the late ‘60s prog/psych outfit, this Blonde On Blonde were Page 3 glamour models Jilly Johnson and Nina Carter, who became national treasures in their own way. Another Page 3 family favourite Linda Lusardi as far as I know didn’t make a disco record in the late ‘70s, which is a terrible shame considering her brother Mark Lusardi was at the time a pioneering engineer in the world of reggae and post-punk. What a missed opportunity!

I think people forget how strange the Bee Gees’ new lease of life courtesy of disco actually was. Saturday Night Fever was such a huge phenomenon. And naturally the film inspired a number of budget copies, like the UK’s charming Music Machine. One of the stars of this very English film was Patti Boulaye, who has been credited with making it possible for a new generation of Nigerian female singers to have pop success in their own country. Patti may not have had much in the way of chart success in the UK but she became a stalwart of TV variety shows, and made some fantastic disco recordings along the way. Patti first found success in the UK on the TV talent show New Faces, as did Marti Caine. The other big TV talent show of the time was Opportunity Knocks, and a couple of its success stories would make some cracking disco recordings long after the hits had dried up. Peters & Lee, for example, released a fantastic country soul-ish disco single in 1976, called Save Me (Feel Myself A-Falling) which was co-written by Mark Wirtz. And former child star Lena Zavaroni made a great lost disco LP in 1979 which featured Somebody Should Have Told Me, a track also recorded quite perfectly by Cissy Houston.

The whole ‘variety show’ disco thing was a truly international phenomenon. Sacha Distel, for example, was a singer who often appeared on British variety shows, effortlessly exuding Gallic charm and elegance. Back home in France in 1979 he recorded the surprisingly avant garde disco number On ne peut plus se cacher. It’s up there as a slice of extraordinary French disco with Franḉoise Hardy’s J'ecoute De La Musique Saoule. Another French variety star Claude Francois worked with Biddu at the end of the 1970s, and in true Biddu fashion the tune Laisse Une Chance a Notre Amour will seem naggingly familiar, particularly to Jimmy James fans. This French disco milieu it should be remembered is one from which Sheila & B Devotion stepped to record Spacer with the Chic Organisation, and the French girls adapted well too, as France Gall demonstrated particularly well. Incidentally our own Petula Clark recorded some very nice French disco in the late ‘70s.

There will be many more examples of ‘variety show’ disco. One particular favourite is a fantastic if lost Twiggy single from 1978, called Falling Angel, which David Essex arranged, produced and co-wrote. Now David was always a bit of an enigma who played around with his image, and his relationship to disco was a bit ambivalent. He recorded a great track called I Don’t Wanna Go To The Disco which I am pretty sure you could convince people is a great lost Ian Dury & The Blockheads recording. But then pretty much concurrently David recorded the theme for the film Silver Dream Machine which is pretty much the pinnacle of inventive MOR disco, and indeed Scars, the Edinburgh group, realised this and did a pretty much concurrent cover.

Twiggy is more usually associated with country/MOR sounds, but rather wonderfully she did make an LP in 1979 which was produced by (her then new friend) Donna Summer and Juergen Koppers in Hollywood. Munich disco legends Keith Forsey and Harold Faltermeyer are among the musicians who worked on the sessions. This was at the time when the Munich stalwarts were moving to the US and adopting more of a rock sound. The LP itself was strangely ‘shelved’ for the next 30 years. It does at least help explain why Twiggy featured prominently in the video for Donna Summer’s Bad Girls. Of course by then the world was in the grip of disco.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 14

In 1978 60% of the pop hits in Japan were disco recordings, apparently. Naturally, a large proportion of these will have been international sensations. But inevitably there will have been an efficient home grown disco industry. Certainly the swish and sophistication of disco would have suited Japanese girl singers, and no doubt there are special interest groups dedicated to such sounds. I, however, wouldn’t want to be quizzed too closely about J-Disco. And searches can be hampered by what can be called the Sylvian question.

Thankfully there are clues out there to be followed, leading to introductions to singers like Hiromi Iwasaki, Hiromi Ohta and Junko Yagami. I confess I can share little information about these performers, but Junko Yagami’s Wonderful City, from her 1980 LP Mr Metropolis is particularly recommended. I’m certain these names are the tip of an iceberg. Once you have a key to unlock any treasure trove there’s fun to be had and J-Disco is no different to any other area of activity. Flounder around blindly and you will stumble across unfamiliar pleasures and treasures. For example, Yoko Katori singing Going Back To China is particularly striking. Fei Fei Ouyang from Taiwan seems to have been something of a disco queen in Japan, and I am very taken with some of her ‘70s recordings that have been posted on YouTube, especially when she’s urging us to do the Sexy Bus Stop.

In another direction there are the more serious-minded jazz/funk oriented performers, and that’s a whole other gold mine to explore. But I do have a real passion for the work of the exceptional jazz singer Kamiko Kasai, who features on the YHO Lonely Clouds mixtape of Japanese sounds. Kamiko made some fantastic records in the ‘70s, working with the likes of Richard Evans in 1976 and then Herbie Hancock and his full first team on the exceptional Butterfly LP. I’ve also made a mental note to explore further among the works of Haruko Kawana and Junko Ohashi when the opportunities arise.

At the other end of the disco spectrum there was the J-Pop phenomenon Pink Lady. The Japanese idols Mie and Kei took the pop world by storm in the late ‘70s with their ultra-energetic synchronised dance routines, playing up the stereotypical cute pop doll image something rotten. Watching their astonishing performances now you really can’t help but smile at the hyper surreal nature of it all. And their hit singles have pop art titles that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Davy Henderson record: Pepper Keibu, Carmen ’77, Southpaw, Chameleon Army, Zipangu, Pink Typhoon, Monday Mona Lisa Club. They even had a degree of success in the US with the excellent single Kiss In The Dark, appearing on the Leif Garrett TV show and making a series for NBC with comedian Jeff Altman which it seems was not the happiest of experiences for the pair but oh what a lovely idea.

I guess the exaggerated cartoon nature of Pink Lady is more what the West might expect from Japanese disco. And, yeah, look hard enough and you’ll find the novelty hits like Popeye The Sailor Man by Spinach Power. Of course given the fact that disco music, synthesizers and computer games were all getting into their stride at the same time, Japan’s Funny Stuff inevitably had its novelty hit Disco Space Invaders . Certainly in the late ‘70s the Space Invaders game took the world by storm, so it’s no surprise it infiltrated popular music too, from Scientist’s dub excursions to Yellow Magic Orchestra’s only UK hit.

It was with the advent of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s techno pop that the more fashionable end of the UK’s music press took notice of Japanese music. The Face in particular took a close interest in developments from Japan. The Plastics, quite rightly, caught the attention with their eccentric take on pop. Unfortunately this lost something in translation when Island teamed them with Alex Sadkin. In this they were not alone, as what was a magic touch in the Compass Point studios didn’t necessarily travel well, as Vic Godard and Paul Haig might testify.

Among those snippets in The Face was a particular photo of Sandii, from the Japanese pop group Sandii and the Sunsetz, which made a particular impression upon me. I think I have to say the Japanese artists of the time made more of a visual impact on me than the records did. I know, for example, that YMO protégé Susan had a track on the NME cassette Dancin’ Master, but it would be many years before I heard more of her work, like the excellent I Only Come Out At Night from her second LP The Girl Can’t Help It, which still sounds like the futuristic disco or techno pop you would hope 1981 was harbouring. Actually it’s still pretty well hidden 30 odd years on, which is stranger still.

Sandii and the Sunsetz, too, are a group whose music I took some time to discover and who at times still sound like the future that never arrived. It would be easy to dwell on YMO associations, or the fact that Sandii and the Sunsetz may be viewed as the missing link between Blondie and Madonna. What is more interesting is that buried away on their early LPs are a number of wonderfully strange and pretty abstract tracks that would have worked wonderfully on any of the Disco Not Disco collections that were being put together some years back. I am thinking specifically of tracks like Zoot Kook and Drip Dry Eyes with their reggae/dub influences bubbling away. Sandi and the gang later took more of an explicit reggae direction, interestingly enough. And because YHO thrives on strange connections, it has to be mentioned that Babylon, a song by Sandii and Makoto Kubota (from the Sunsetz) was recorded by Akina Nakamori in the mid-‘80s. Akina also recorded some songs around that time that had been written by Biddu, including Blonde.

Yellow Magic Orchestra, I suspect, will need little said about them, but it is worth mentioning nevertheless how perfectly they fit the outsiders’ view of Japan, in terms of mixing new technology smartly with pop influences from just about everywhere. It’s interesting that they were coming to pop prominence just as Japan’s own Roland corporation was increasing its influence on the world of music with its new products. And while it is normal for YMO to be mentioned in connection with the roots of techno and hip hop, it should also be mentioned how very much of the moment they were too. Their second LP, for example, Solid State Survivor is packed full with tracks that could serve as terrifyingly efficient disco hits with the right vocals welded on. When you see clips of them playing live Yukihiro Takahashi is working away with all the compulsion of Keith Forsey on any number of Munich disco classics you might care to put in a mix. But oh imagine the joy of YMO matched with a vocalist as magnificent as Ruriko Ohgami.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 13

Disco Dhol Waja is a song from the 1986 Lollywood musical Qaidi. It’s a riotous number sung by Pakistan’s ‘melody queen’ Noor Jehan, composed by Nazir Ali, and Anjuman is the star dancing madly in the clip posted on YouTube. Stripped of its context, standing alone, it’s a high energy, highly entertaining romp, as camp as hell but great fun. Noor must have been nearly 60 when she sang this number, and she had been at the top of her profession as playback singer for years and years. Nazir Ali was himself a long established composer. And Anjuman was a highly successful actress throughout the 1980s. So, this film was pretty high profile, I guess, but there seems a certain mischief at work, not least with the deeply traditional dhol drum rigged up with electric lights and emitting syndrum sounds.

I have to confess I knew next-to-nothing about Pakistan’s Lahore-based film industry until the excellent folk at Finders Keepers released their The Sound of Wonder collection of tracks from the Lollywood vaults, which was a revelation. That set, covering the period 1973-1980, supplied plenty of clues about the characters involved in making these fantastic soundtracks, and almost inevitably YouTube revealed in its unique way a treasure trove of clips from old Pakistani films. The one thing that seemed to be missing was a site along the lines of Music From The Third Floor which would provide ready access to Lollywood soundtracks for those of us keen to explore in more detail, but life’s not perfect.

Recently I came across a fascinating article, written for Granta by the novelist Kamila Shamsie about growing up in Karichi in the late 1980s, and the relationship between pop music and the political climate in Pakistan. The turning point for the teenage Kamila seems to have been the arrival of the young pop group Vital Signs in 1987 with their strangely subversive synthpop song Dil Dil Pakistan. She refers, however, to the earlier buzz created by the success in 1981 of Disco Deewane by the Pakistan-born duo Nazia and Zoheb Hassan, and the unease the London-based pair’s natural glamour created among the religious right and allies of Pakistan’s military dictator, Zia ul-Haq: “These were the early days of Islamization, when the censors were confused about what was permissible. A few years later, the process of Islamization was sufficiently advanced that a video such as Disco Deewane would have no chance of airing. Although Nazia and Zoheb continued to release albums, the censorship laws and official attitudes towards pop meant they never gave concerts, received limited airtime on PTV, never released another video with the energy and sensuality of Disco Deewane, and were seen as a leftover from the days before Zia’s soulless rule sucked the life out of Pakistan’s youth culture.”

Kamila doesn’t mention Pakistan’s cinema industry in her article. But the Finders Keepers collection definitely gave the impression a golden age ended with the 1970s, and the little I’d read elsewhere had mentioned Lollywood’s decline in the 1980s as it tried to come to terms with censorship and restrictions on what was allowed. So, I must admit that while I wondered about what response the success of Disco Deewane may have triggered in Lollywood I wasn’t particularly hopeful that I would readily find much of interest. Experience, however, should have told me things are never that simple, and people will always find a way to entertain. So, inevitably, YouTube also hosts a nice store of 1980s disco-related clips from Lollywood movies. And while I happily concede these song and dance routines may well be carved from excruciatingly awful ‘exploitation’ films they are nevertheless often wonderful pieces of nonsense or high art in their own right, and I salute those involved for what they got away with.

So, for example, songs from the Biddu-produced Disco Deewane were used in the 1982 film Sangdil, including my particular favourite, the pop reggae flavoured Aao na. The dancer in the film is I believe Babra Sharif, doing her best in ‘difficult circumstances’. Barbra was one of the more glamorous and resilient stars of 1980s Pakistani cinema, and she appeared for example in a series of films which were Miss this or Miss that. Again, there are some disco gems on the soundtracks of these, such as Main chand khwab sajaloon from Miss Bangkok, sung by Naheed Akhter and composed by the great M. Ashraf, names that will be familiar to anyone who has The Sound of Wonder. Miss Colombia is another film in that series with a great M. Ashraf soundtrack.

Naheed Akhter was perhaps the only playback singer in Pakistan to rival Noor Jehan, and there seem to be plenty of examples of great 1980s recordings she made with a disco flavour. My own personal favourite is a number I know as Disco Deewane Mera Naam from the film Aik Din Bahu Ka. The music again is by M. Ashraf and in this particular clip the actress dancing is Bindiya. Another Nahid Akhtar/M. Ashraf disco number that’s made a great impression upon me is the glorious Mere dil main tera dil hai from the film Saathi. This time it’s Babra Sharif dancing.

Probably the best Bollywood disco number I’ve heard is Come Closer from the 1984 film Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki, written by Bappi Lahiri and sung by Salma Agha. Salma was actually from Pakistan, but she sang on Bollywood soundtracks after she and her sister made an LP of Abba covers. She later moved back to Pakistan where she acted and sang for the Lollywood industry. Ruby was one of the films she sang on, and the disco number Humsa meri jaan is fantastic, with music by Amjad Bobby. The dancer is Sabitha Perera, who I believe was the only actress from Sri Lanka who gained popularity in Pakistani films in the 1980s. Another fantastic number from that film, sung by Naheed Akhter is Ye tanhai main aur tu.

Accompanying commentary on these clips refer to films being formulaic or flops, and I accept that. But the fact that people have gone to so much trouble to extract these dance numbers and upload them to YouTube indicates they have value. On a personal level, I have a real fondness for female ensemble disco workouts from these old Lollywood films. With Noor Jehan singing and the cast doing its thing, it’s impossible not to succumb, and I have to suggest again that there really does seem to be a sense of mischief at work on numbers like Nazir Ali’s Disco Jugni Kandi Ae or Disco Che Been Wajee. It’s as if they’re saying: “Right we can’t do this or wear that, so we’ll send the whole thing up and celebrate the glorious absurdity of where we are”. Perhaps.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 12

If there is one thing that fuels the Your Heart Out adventure it’s making unexpected but entirely perfect connections. So, for example, watching a series of enchanting videos of Nazia and Zoheb Hassan on YouTube which had been posted by someone involved in their making, it suddenly occurred to me that this was the same person who’d put up the startlingly wonderful promo video of The Mo-dettes’ White Mice which had been made in the basement of my old alma mater the London College of Printing back in 1979. These clips it turned out had been shared by David Rose, who with his wife Kathy has been involved with the making of many a pop video.

There is a certain perfection to there being an explicit link between The Mo-Dettes and Nazia Hassan. Nazia’s Disco Deewane and The Mo-Dettes’ White Mice are immaculate examples of disco inspired pop confectionary. White Mice had an incredible impact on my world, and Disco Deewane had rather more of an impact around the world, but they are both irresistible and great examples of how elements of disco music were absorbed and used in different ways.

Musically, the driving force behind Disco Deewane was Biddu, the great pop alchemist, and it must have been a sweet irony for him to enjoy a new wave of success with that record in south east Asia having left India penniless many years before to seek his fortune in the London pop world. Biddu’s genius is rooted in working in very prescribed, often proscribed, areas of music, creating art out of froth. Many of his early recordings, for example, at the start of the ‘70s were unashamedly ultra-poppy bubblegum soul sides which found favour among the less snobbish Northern Soul fans. His discography is littered with lost classics from that time, like Melting Pot's Girl I'm Getting Hip, and cuts by acts he’d later have great success with, like Jimmy James’ A Man Like Me and Carl Douglas’ Somebody Stop This Madness.

During the disco era the determined populist Biddu hit on a winning formula, and recordings with Tina Charles and his own orchestral disco excursions were huge successes. Biddu was smart enough to surround himself with people who could make his schemes come to life, like the fantastic arranger Gerry Shury who was featured in The Enormity of Small Things, an earlier edition of YHO. When Gerry tragically died in a car crash, things began to unravel for Biddu and his stable. So it was fate intervening that gave him the chance to try a new market by contributing to the soundtrack of a Bollywood film, Qurbani, in 1979. Rather brilliantly he transposed his own unique disco formula with the 15-year-old Pakistan born Nazia Hassan singing with him in London taking on the Tina Charles role singing the lovely Aap Jaisa Koi. Together they struck gold.

Biddu went on to work further with Nazia and her brother Zoheb in the ‘80s. I don’t know if the presence of Zoheb softened the impact of Nazia as a controversially independent, smart and natural teenager, but the image of the two together was rather Mac & Katie Kissoon-like (a huge compliment in my book). The delightful 1981 Disco Deewane LP was an extraordinary success, particularly in India. The fact that it was a couple of young Pakistan-born Londoners turning things upside down just makes it all the more wonderfully strange. There’s a lovely passage about Nazia shattering stereotypes in the 1984 (Sue Steward/Sheryl Garrett) Signed Sealed And Delivered book on women in pop, which is highly recommended.

Beyond south east Asia Disco Deewane was a massive hit intriguingly in places such as Brazil, the West Indies and Russia. The old Soviet Union seems to have had a massive appetite for Bollywood extravaganzas, and there was a trend for some of these to be dubbed into Russian, like the evergreen 1982 blockbuster Disco Dancer. This film has a soundtrack by the Bollywood disco king Bappi Lahiri, and one of its hit songs, Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja, had a new lease of life recently when MIA adapted it. The song itself originally borrowed heavily from Ottawan’s T’Es OK, which was a bit of a feature of Bappi’s work, it seems. Even the gorgeous Come Closer sung by Salma Agha, from the soundtrack of Kasam Paida Karnewale Ki, has strong suggestions of Imagination’s Body Talk.

Much of what I know about Bollywood sounds has been gleaned from the superb site Music From The Third Floor, which is overseen by PC, a man of immaculate and very varied taste who has also designed the striking covers for the various YHO mixtapes. I always approve enormously of any project that is adhered to doggedly, and there is a lot to explore among the rare and out-of-print titles on the site. The impact of MFTTF has resonated around the world from its base in Norway, and there has even been a radio show in Alaska that draws on the project’s archives. Some of the commentary on the site is as entertaining as the music, and it’s fascinating to observe how Bollywood sounds have flitted in and out of fashion in recent times, causing the value of certain titles to fluctuate wildly.

Not all of Bappi Lahiri’s soundtracks get the MFTTF seal of approval, and PC is keen to draw our attention to his work before Disco Dancer. One that caught my attention was the soundtrack for College Girl, which opens with an incredible mod rave-up incorporating In a Gadda da Vida and Wild Thing that leads into the ‘tropical’ flavoured College Girl ‘I Love You’ with its Moroder/Summer references and synth motif. It’s odd hearing that now in the context of the Charanjit Singh record, Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, which created a frenzy in 2010 when it was salvaged by the Bombay Connection label, which was great as it’s an amazing record and it was great to see the label itself active again as its earlier collections are essential. The Charanjit Singh record provoked lots of animated web chat about its use of Roland synths, 808s and 303s. As time has passed the pendulum has begun to swing another way, leading to sniffy commentators declaring that it’s interesting the record exists, of course, but it’s not significant as it didn’t actually lead to anything directly related to acid house. Tsk.

One thing the reissue did lead to was a flurry of interest in whether there were other Indian recordings of a similar nature, and almost inevitably Biddu’s glorious 1982 recording of Boom Boom with Nazia Hassan has been cited. It’s striking that some people were clearly coming at this from an angle where they suddenly knew more about Charanjit Singh than Biddu, which is fair enough. Recorded in London, Boom Boom was the highlight of Nazia and Zohar’s second LP, which was to be the soundtrack of the Bollywood film Star. Given Biddu’s populist tendencies it would be inevitable he’d try a Munich disco thing with Nazia. But back in 1978 he’d been mixing sitars, synths and Munich disco propulsion together on the delightfully rum Futuristic Journey LP. And then there’s his heavily electronic production on Captain Zorro’s disco version of the theme from Phantasm, and my particular favourite the exceptional 1979 single, Voodoo Man.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 11

Zur by Boban Petrovic is a remarkable record. Released in 1981 in the former Yugoslavia, it’s one of the great blue-eyed soul/funk records. It’s undeniably very much in that immediate post-Off The Wall way of working, but it’s luxurious and strongly suggestive of the new pop gloss to come from Scritti Politti, say. Fashion’s Zeus B Held-produced Fabrique would be a good reference point, but then so would the rather later It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way by the Blow Monkeys or Shampoo Tears by Win.

Predictably, I stumbled across Zur through YouTube, having chanced upon a series of videos from the LP which seemed to string together and tell a story. Zur I believe means party and that’s certainly the theme of the video sequence, with Boban at the centre looking lupine in a louche lounge lizard kind of Klaus Nomi way. The setting and tone is delightfully decadent, and the feel is very much that of an early 1981 fantasy photo-shoot for The Face, complete with Blitz/Club For Heroes clientele on a weekend away in Belgrade. You expect Martin Degville to emerge at any moment, before remembering this is supposedly the austere Eastern Europe of old and nothing this risqué or outlandish was supposed to exist there.

Unlike Green Gartside in 1981 Boban Petrovic had been long steeped in black American funk and disco music. At a young age he’d started the group Zdravo who’d released some outstanding singles in the late ‘70s before Boban went solo. Zur was his first LP, but there was another one in 1984 (Zora) I believe. After that Boban seems to have published a hedonistic novel, moved to Cyprus, made billions in construction and financial trading, then moved to Marbella where he lived the jet-set party lifestyle, buying the local football team along the way, as you do.

One other record I know he was involved with was Perfektan dan za banana ribe by the Yugoslavian new wave outfit Talas or VIA Talas (that’s vocal-instrumental ensemble, which is a prefix used by a lot of Eastern Europe groups). The title of this 1983 LP translates as A Perfect Day For Bananafish, which will delight the Salinger fans among us who grew up on the notion of Holden Caulfield Universal. A lot of the LP is perky Martha & The Muffins pop, but there is some great stuff on there like the more dubby, disco infused post-punk of Gorke suze L.M. (Lady Mackbet).

A couple of tracks from Zur pop up on an unofficial collection, Idi, igraj!: Funk,soul, jazz funk & disco from ex-Yugoslavia 1969-1987, lovingly compiled by a certain DJ Funky Junkie. It’s an amazing insight into some of the music that was being made in Yugoslavia during that era, and more surprisingly there is very little overlap with my own fumbling and bumbling about in the music of the former Yu. I’d already been amazed at the soul/r’n’b influences that seemed so pronounced in old ‘60s recordings, like Nada Knezevic singing Garnet Mimms’ Cry Baby. But the names on this collection were new to me, with the exception of Zdenka Kovacicek who was one of the stars of the Anywhere Else But Here Today project singing Mi Volimo Soul.

Zdenka has a reputation for being the missing link between Yma Sumac and Janis Joplin, and a 1978 LP she made with the Igor Savin Big Band is rightly revered. Most of the LP is funky and bluesy, but there is one totally unexpected track, the amazing Elektra, where there is a real Moroder bubbling synth thing going on with Zdenka scat singing. Igor himself made his own Yu Disco Expres LP in 1979 which has some fantastic stuff on, and is a useful reminder of how the world over the disco explosion was underpinned by the precision playing of big bands and orchestras led by the likes of Igor Savin.

Of course the opposite end of the disco spectrum was where another sort of technology came into play, with the advent of electro, rap and the birth of hip hop, which caused considerable friction throughout the disco world. Yugoslavia was no exception, and there in the early ‘80s the Master Scratch Band were pioneers of electro, and their Degout EP, released in 1984, is wonderful. I gather that they didn’t have all the technology to hand that counterparts, say, in New York might have had, so necessity was very much the mother of invention, and I suspect that improvisational spirit is what makes the tracks seem so fresh now.

Before the Master Scratch Band EP was released the group had some success in the charts with Sizike, a project where they got three inexperienced singers to front a recording with rather spectacular success. It’s all very reminiscent of the Bananrama story, and indeed if that trio had recorded for Mute they would very likely have sounded like Sizike. The hit single was the electro pop wonder Don’t Stop, and it was a decidedly slinky affair. There was a fantastic accompanying LP too, but sadly the project was a one-off. I suspect this is not what people immediately think of when Balkan disco is mentioned.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 10

Footage from the funeral of Austrian disco legend Kurt Hauenstein shows a massive turnout of Hell’s Angels and bikers alongside the music business greats the Supermax leader had worked with like Frank Farian of Boney M fame. Rockers Revenge was always an interesting choice of name for Arthur Baker’s activities given the image he cultivated. And yet his story is rather more straightforward than those of many of the people who were involved in the disco scene. I keep hoping to come across a definitive history of the German disco scene because I am particularly interested in the backgrounds of those involved and the different roads they’d taken to get there. How many were refugees from the Krautrock world? How many had been members of the German big bands playing interpretations of funk and jazz? And so on.

I would admit that I know very little about the pop music of Austria. I had to make a conscious effort to do some investigative work for the Anywhere But Here Today project, and fortunately I stumbled across the strange world of ‘Austropop’ which was wonderfully disorientating. Along the way I came across clips of the (Goethe-inspired?) Austrian disco group Ganymed which made me laugh out in delight. The music was great, in what would inevitably now be described as a ‘space disco’ way, but the performances were even better, complete with outlandish alien costumes which reminded me of the KLF. Despite the daft adopted names like Kroonk and Pulsaria the songs stand up really well, poised somewhere between prog and Eurovision, and the existence of Ganymed was enough to make Austropop worth celebrating.

But then I discovered Supermax. I really had never come across Supermax or Kurt Hauenstein until recently. And I’m sure it’s not just an allergy to groups called Super-this-or-that. It’s just that our paths never crossed. The cruel irony is that I only discovered the pleasures of Supermax shortly after Kurt Hauenstein died in March 2011. Oh the shame of it, as I bet all the cosmic disco hipsters were well up-to-speed on the Supermax legend. But I was blissfully unaware of the genius of King Kurt until I saw YouTube clips of the group performing its hits Love Machine and World of Today which set me off on a quest to find out more.

I was particularly intrigued because while it was not that unusual to have someone looking like an unreconstructed rocker on keyboards as part of a Euro disco group line-up, Supermax in contrast had such a guy stage centre looking and sounding like a refugee from Humble Pie, surrounded by some seriously funky souls, and seemingly singing about the world being full of pollution and kids taking pills and that the world’s a mess ‘cos the police are doing it too. This was clearly not your average disco fodderstomp, and I’ve been having a ball playing catch up with the Supermax catalogue. It just makes me smile that apparently the whole of eastern Europe was 30 years ahead of me.

Kurt Hauenstein may have been from Austria but like most of the greats he was a true internationalist. He moved to Germany while still young to play bass, and yes he was in Krautrock/prog outfits (e.g. Rigoni/Schoenherz) and then got involved with Frank Farian in Frankfurt where he was setting up his Boney M project which is where Kurt learned his studio skills. In 1976 he started his own Supermax project, with the Don’t Stop The Music LP from which the title track gives a wonderful indication of the mad mix of elements swirling around in the Supermax sound with a particular emphasis on African and reggae influences counterbalancing the synths and the more prog rock traits. This, and other Supermax titles, was produced by Peter Hauke, who was from a similar prog background. The Supermax reggae influences became more pronounced in the early ‘80s, and Kurt being a bass player by trade perhaps helped this manifest itself in some very deep dubby excursions. Indeed any biog will mention Supermax were the first white group to play at the legendary Sunsplash festival.

Beyond Supermax Kurt did get involved in some extra-curricular activity. He helped out on Bernt Mohrles’ Chilly project, but best of all was his work on the Bamboo LP which he masterminded for WEA in 1979 which is simply astonishing. He had the opportunity to produce a trio of singers from Suriname, and let his imagination run riot. He came up with an outlandish creation that’s up there with the best of Chic and Ze Records’ output. Cosmic disco exoticists no doubt drool over this LP, but it’s the slower, dubby track Hustlers of Life Will Never Survive that gets me everytime. One other project of Kurt’s that I am aware of is the London Aircraaft one from 1984, with Supermax backing singer Larry London out front, which has some wonderful electro tracks on and the rather more characteristic reggae driven Rocket in my Pocket. I guess it should also be mentioned that in more recent years Supermax collaborated with Buddha Monk of the Wu Tang Clan, which seems just about perfect really.

I do wonder what my teenage punk self would have made of Supermax if I had been aware of their work in the late ‘70s. I suspect I might have struggled with Kurt’s image, which would have been pretty daft as the guy was infinitely cooler than I could ever hope to be. And Kurt would have been pretty contemptuous of ridiculous engrained prejudices. On a more meaningful note, for example, even the first Supermax LP has the outstanding Watch Out South Africa, Here We Come. It’s not just a striking piece of anti-apartheid disco stomp, there’s real menace in the delivery. And it wasn’t just an empty threat, as Supermax did tour South Africa in 1981 where controversially Kurt took the full racially-mixed entourage, defiantly becoming the first group to do so, I believe, ruffling many feathers along the way and attracting all sorts of hostility and threats. A true rocker's revenge.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 9

Long, long ago when car boot sales were a relatively new phenomenon and CDs were just coming in vinyl seekers had a field day. On one occasion I can remember picking up a 50p copy of Joe Gibbs’ Majestic Dub in mint condition, with really thick cardboard sleeve and the works. I knew my hip reference points, and about the African Dub series, so I was delighted. Eagerly anticipating some heavyweight dub excursions I put the needle on the record as soon as I got home, and suddenly out from my battered hi-fi oozed some squelchy synth straight off Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. I was rather confused.

Majestic Dub is a strange old record. While most of it is orthodox dub (if you’ll excuse what should be an oxymoron) there are definite disco elements here and there and generous use of bubbling synths. These days I would probably be desperate to hear more of those disco elements, and perversely have more recently come unstuck time and time again with the way ‘disco’ as a phrase is used in reggae music. I mean, for example, if you come across a Sly & Robbie record called Disco Dub you’d think it would be a bit, well, McFadden and Whitehead at least knowing what we know about Bits and Pieces, Boops, etc. but nah.

When I think of reggae meeting disco uptown I tend to think of Third World’s Now That We’ve Found Love, Inner Circle’s Everything Is Great, and that whole late ‘70s Island, Chris Blackwell, Alex Sadkin, Steve Stanley scene. It’s easy to forget that such ‘crossover’ sounds were a bit controversial at the time. Kris Needs was one of the few journalists in the late ‘70s enthusiastically writing about punk, reggae and disco all mixed in together, but even he in a Zigzag review of Sly Dunbar’s Sly, Wicked and Slick LP expressed caution about “the preoccupation with distilled disco”.

In an interview Kris did with Jacob Miller of Inner Circle, published in the April 1979 issue of Zigzag, there is considerable discussion about making reggae for the disco market, with reference to a Peter Tosh quote about not approving of disco music as “disco means to ‘get down’ which wasn’t a good thing”. And yet that same year Peter Tosh was in Byron Lee’s Dynamic Sounds studio with Sly, Robbie, Sticky, Mikey Chung making the Mystic Man LP for the Rolling Stones’ label with its centrepiece Buk-in-hamm Palace which is just about thee definitive disco reggae recording.

There is a time-honoured reggae tradition of reinterpreting the hits of the day, so it’s no surprise that long before Chris Blackwell’s masterplan was put into operation there were Jamaican takes on disco smashes. In 1975, for example, Byron Lee was redoing The Hustle and Disco Stomp. And I have to confess to being the type of person who gets irrationally excited at finding reggae disco versions of Silver Convention’s Fly Robin Fly. There’s a great one by Toney and the Sweet Bunch. Derrick Harriott did a fantastic version on his Reggae Disco Rockers LP, as did Harold Butler on his Gold Connection LP. There seems to be quite a lot of overlap between those two LPs in terms of personnel, and they were both released in the UK by Lloyd Charmers, interestingly enough.

Gold Connection, in particular, seems to be a record rated by devotees of Jamaican disco reggae who have looked beyond that great Soul Jazz Hustle compilation. I confess to being a massive fan, and like the fact that it’s only the odd track here and there that gets everything right. More knowledgeable people than me will point you in the direction of cuts like the Royal Rasses’ Unconventional People, Freak by Tapper Zukie, The Rebels’ Rhodesia, the wonderful It’s My House by Storm, and my particular favourite Hey Mister by Althea Fo(r)rest & Togetherness. And that is the Althea, yes, and quite possibly before Uptown Top Ranking on a cut she wrote with Derrick Harriott, who also produced it.

The overlap between disco and reggae was touched upon in Skimming Stones, an earlier edition of Your Heart Out, which looked at it more from a British perspective, starting with the Disco Dub Band and Mike Dorane’s Island-sponsored adventures with his Rockers and Movers labels which the more I think about it seem the blueprint for what Chris Blackwell did with Compass Point. Then there is Eddy Grant, who was once so popular he almost became invisible, but if you listen back to things like his original version of Walking On Sunshine they sound phenomenal in the way he mixed up elements. That track was perhaps his most out-and-out disco moment, but it’s hardly standard dancefloor fare.

Dennis Bovell may not have enjoyed Eddy Grant’s success, but he is rightly revered. I would still love to see a definitive database of his productions, but on the other hand it is fun finding them independently. So, for example, his production for his own Matumbi label of Guardian Angel’s Self-Service Love is a pretty special slice of disco reggae. And his steering of I-Roy (Roy Reid) down an explicitly disco path on Whap’n Bap’n is quite simply extraordinary.

Dennis Bovell’s engineer on a number of sessions was Mark Lusardi, who was another central character of that Skimming Stones edition of YHO. Mark worked on all sorts of sessions, some deep underground and some which were successful crossovers like Black Slate’s Amigo, a genuine success in charts and discos around the world. It could be argued that the UK reggae groups were able to provide perfect disco material because of versatility often acquired the hard way through years of experience doing session work and providing live support for all sorts of artists. The Reggae Regulars’ Where Is Jah?/Black Star Liner is another UK reggae 12” that springs to mind as an example of a record you’re likely to find featured on disco forums.

Among the pioneering recordings Mark Lusardi worked on was TW Funkmasters’ Love Money, a project of London reggae radio show presenter Tony Williams who used contacts among the reggae community to make an early electro track. Peter Shapiro in his disco history Turn The Beat Around cites the dub of Love Money as a huge club hit in New York and the track which woke Francois Kervorkian up to “the power dub effects had over the dance floor”. Peter mentions that Kervorkian’s own experiments with dub peaked on Snakecharmer, Jah Wobble and his group’s collaboration with Holger Czukay and The Edge. Ironically, going full circle, Mark Lusardi was a long-time colleague of Wobble’s and had worked with him and Czukay (and Jaki Liebezeit) previously on the How Much Are They? EP. Wobble has mentioned how “typically, Mark Lusardi was the unsung hero on that recording. He gave it a ‘tough’ disco sound, and some nice dub touches”.

Francois Kervorkian’s immortal disco reggae mixes include Jimmy Cliff’s Treat The Youths Right. His fellow champion of disco’s darker, dubbier side, Larry Levan, has similarly become more than legendary for his mixes. The ‘dubs’ of some of Gwen Guthrie’s Compass Point recordings spring to mind, like Peanut Butter, featuring Sly and Robbie etc. I think I’m right in saying that Gwen first worked with Sly and Robbie while recording with Peter Tosh in New York. She would certainly go on to feature on his classic Mystic Man set with its Buk-in-hamm Palace show stealer.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 8

It’s one of the more dependable devices in crime fiction: the hiding of something specific in the middle of the very general. And so in much the same way how many people would immediately recognise Ralph MacDonald’s Calypso Breakdown? Yet many millions of people have owned it as part of the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. I wonder how many who heard that track would go on to investigate other works by the New York percussionist?

I like the idea of a casual disco fan stumbling upon Ralph’s 1978 LP The Path, and really getting into its conceptual side as it traces a journey, spiritually and musically, from Africa through the Caribbean to New York. It’s a hell of a record, and features a heavyweight cast including Chuck Rainey, Bob James, Gwen Guthrie, Miriam Makeba and Grover Washington. Its follow-up, the excellent Counterpoint, was rather more dancefloor-friendly with the track Discolypso giving an indication of the musical area it was having its fun in.

Another Hollywood blockbuster that had its disco calypso moment was The Deep, which featured Beckett, the soca star from St Vincent, on an irresistible track arranged by close collaborator Frankie McIntosh. I would love to be able to say my life was changed by Calypso Disco when I saw the film as a kid, but I confess Jacqueline Bisset made rather more of an impression upon me. Beckett got to release an accompanying LP on Casablanca, one of my favourite labels which released a host of classic disco sides, most notably the remarkable string of Donna Summer hits. It often confounded expectations though, with for example its Wildflowers series of recordings from New York’s Loft jazz scene which I bet has caught out a few disco neophytes who think they know their David Mancuso history.

I have to admit I am not familiar with Beckett’s other recordings, and I would willingly concede that soca is bit of a weak spot for me. One record I did stumble across which made me sit up and pay attention is a collection called Rebel Soca, which has an astonishing track on it by Safi Abdullah called Afrika Is Burning. Ostensibly it’s an attack on disco hedonism: “Under screams of a boiling overdose systematically controlled by idiots of the White House with twisted grins and stale peanuts. Africa is burning, and the Black Man is doing the Freak ”. It goes on to point a finger at party-goers and their “tight jeans and Elton John sunglasses, Pierre Cardin sneakers and a bag of smoke.” While the sermon is delivered in the finest Gil Scott-Heron tradition, ironically the music which is a glorious mix of reggae, calypso, funk, highlife and much more makes it a pretty unique disco classic itself. There seems to be ridiculously little out there about or by Safi Abdullah beyond an old compilation.

There is a lot of interest in what happened when disco music met Caribbean sounds, and there are plenty of people better qualified than me to write about ‘tropical disco’. But one thing that does particularly appeal is that any ‘tropical disco’ collection or mix is likely to include tracks from beyond the Caribbean itself. The term ‘disco lypso’ itself has been adopted by Mandrill and by Bunny Mack, and used for a compilation put out by Trans Air, a label that is carving out a nice niche in salvaging lost Caribbean funk. And you’ll find ‘tropical disco’ sounds in various locations. To give a great example, Harry Mosco was leader of Nigerian afro rock outfit The Funkees who moved to London to try their luck following the success of Osibisa (and if Sunshine Day isn’t the most glorious example of ‘tropical disco’ I’ll retire hurt!). Harry went on to make some solo recordings for the Nigerian market, including the excellent early ‘80s LP Sugar Cane Baby which had a glorious Caribbean infused title track.

Many writers have tried to untangle the roots of disco, but have only succeeded in tying themselves up in knots with their references to salsa, merengue (is that an excuse to mention Les Chicas del Can?), reggae, boogaloo, samba, gospel, African rhythms and Soul Makossa. I came across a fascinating piece by Alastair Bird in The Caribbean Review of Books, which was prompted by the re-release of Eddie Hooper’s Pass It On and Tomorrow’s Sun, in which he acknowledges: “The problem with trying to impose an elegantly simple, chronologically reciprocating, and intercultural global narrative on the evolution of musical genres such as disco and soca is that the narrative never quite fits. Contemporary influences are multiple, and the dialogue is gleefully messy; it’s rarely possible to identify where one wave of influence concludes and another begins.”

If you take Caribbean sounds and ‘tropical disco’ in their loosest senses then it’s fascinating to see how influences have pinged back and forth. Even the most casual of music fans will be able to identify songs with a ‘tropical disco’ flavour: Boney M, Goombay Dance Band, and perhaps Lobo’s Caribbean Disco Show which was memorably interpreted by Legs & Co. Then there are the projects of inveterate cultural magpies Daniel Vangarde and Jean Kluger, from Le Monde Fabuleux Des Yamasuki to Black Blood to La Compagnie Creole via the Gibson Brothers and Ottawan. While disco snobs may be snooty about the popular appeal of songs like the Gibson Brothers’ Cuba and Ottawan’s D.I.S.C.O. there is no denying the pleasure they’ve brought to millions around the world, and there is a very strong case for the subversive way in which Vangarde and Kluger made Caribbean exiles famous with a mad miscegenation of musical styles which has made its presence felt worldwide, from Josef K to Bollywood.

Vangarde, in particular, is one of my favourite pop figures. Among other things he is said to have been responsible for Chic working with Sheila & B Devotion and for introducing Wally Badarou to Chris Blackwell when the Island patron was putting together his Compass Point team personnel. The whole Compass Point phenomenon was a literal case of disco and Caribbean cultures colliding. Ironically, however, it is a struggle to think of examples where the local funky Nassau sound impacted on what was being created, except perhaps if you count Monte Browne, a former guitarist with T-Connection, working on the Tom Tom Club LP. And then again T-Connection had a major impact on the development of disco with Do What You Wanna Do and other classics.

Friday, 1 July 2011

The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 7

Brand New Wayo, the first release from Comb & Razor Sound, is a beautiful thing. It’s subtitled “Funk, Fast Times & Nigerian Boogie Badness 1979-1983”, or as compiler Uchenne Ikonne puts it: “We called it Disco”. And the CD edition comes clad in a sumptuous box which contains an 80-page beautifully put-together mock magazine in which Uchenne tells the story of the Nigerian recording industry during that ‘boom’ period, with some lovely vintage advertisements for authentic flavour. If more compact discs were issued with such flair, flamboyance and fun the sorry old recording industry just might find itself in a much healthier position. We might even spend more of the money we don't have on its physical products.

There are some fantastic tracks on Brand New Wayo. It’s impossible not to mention Kris Okotie’s Show Me Your Backside. The music is as glorious as the title, with a bubbling, unmistakably early ‘80s synth sound added to the it has to be said highly Off The Wall influenced funk flavourings. It’s a mix that makes Dizzy K. Falola’s Excuse Me Baby just as irresistible, and underlines yet again how much there is to learn about the music that is out there. There’s little chance of us running out of history for quite some time, unless we choose to limit our horizons.

It is the ladies on Brand New Wayo that steal the show. Joe Moks’ Boys And Girls and Oby Onyioha’s I Want To Feel your Love are both incredible tracks that in a perverse way work perfectly along side anything from Mambo Nassau by Lizzy Mercier Descloux or the Tom Tom Club, or perhaps something on Prelude or West End. Ironically there is probably the same mix of influences, just approached from a different perspective. And in the case of Tony Okoroji’s astonishing production on the Joe Moks track you have to remind yourself this was made a couple of years before Genius of Love.

In his excellent accompanying booklet Uchenne features a piece on Ladies of the Eighties which gives a brief overview of some of the singers who turned the tables on prevailing notions of a woman’s place in Nigerian pop music. It’s a theme he had explored earlier on his legendary blog With Comb and Razor in a post I would cite as one of the best pieces of writing on pop music ever. This particular piece, from November 2007, was entitled On: The Quincy Jones of Nigeria, woman singers and the London Era of Nigerian music’, and it still makes my head spin with its elegance and the abundance of information it contains. In short, it is an article that opens up so many new vistas it’s intoxicating.

The main thrust of the article was about becoming aware of the producer’s role within Nigerian disco/pop sounds, with a specific focus on the work of Lemmy Jackson: “Jackson's rep as ‘the man with the magic fingers’ took off in 1981, a banner year in which three landmark albums bore his production credit: Christy Essien-Igbokwe's Ever Liked My Person?, I Want To Feel Your Love, by Oby Onyioha, and under his own name, Tonight. The piece had a great tangential theme about how in the early ‘80s some Nigerian recordings were overdubbed and mixed in London, where there were plenty of connections via Osibisa, The Funkees, etc. Appropriately for YHO readers among the musicians featured on some of these sessions was Annie Whitehead. And, even better, the featured vocalist on Jackson own LP, Tonight, was Dan-I of Monkey Chop fame, who may be the only person about whom you can get away with using the names Linton Kwesi Johnson and Trevor Horn in the same sentence.

Mention of Christy Essien-Igbokwe and Oby Onyioha allows Uchenne to explain the impact female singers had on Nigerian pop in the early ‘80s: “A score of educated modern ladies holding their heads high and singing the liberated songs of the New Woman--and some of them even wearing trousers as they did it! After the decidedly austere presentation of the folk singers, to have a woman like Oby Onyioha wearing red lipstick and a perm, cooing I Want To Feel Your Love and exhorting her sisters to Enjoy Your Life while decadent strings swooped around her was a deliciously radical change of pace, forerunning a substantial cultural shift.” Another singer mentioned is the elusive Theadora Isudu, whose second LP was actually recorded in the US and opens with the absolute classic It’s Easy. If there is a degree of caution in saying that it will be because you can’t exactly walk into a record shop and easily buy the record, which is criminal when you hear something as wonderful as Ada, which at the risk of being repetitive really has a touch of the Lizzy Mercier Descloux about it.

The great thing about the With Comb and Razor site is that it challenged some of my own ideas about Nigerian music. I guess like a lot of people I’d trundled along, knowing a bit of Fela and king Sunny Ade, gradually learning more about the sound of funky Lagos in the ‘70s via labels like Strut, and overdosing on highlife and frenetic dancefloor sounds. To then come across something like Christy Essien Igbokwe singing Ever Liked My Person? and sounding suspiciously Tammy Wynette-esque or the mix of country and funk on Kris Okotie’s I Need Someone was decidedly disorientating, which is actually a good thing.

The other website I would visit frequently to get a fill of African sounds was the excellent Voodoo Funk, where its host New York DJ Frank Gossner would detail his adventures travels in West Africa in search of abandoned vinyl. The site remains an invaluable resource offering some superb mixtapes collated from the records Frank has found. Among the mixtapes are a number of Nigerian 'disco' sets which are glorious, and it's fascinating to see the evolution from an almost apologetic tone for posting some of this music to a growing realisation that people are desperate to hear more. And we are! Last year Frank compiled some of these sounds for the Lagos Disco Inferno set which is another absolutely essential collection, where again the show is stolen by Doris Ebong's magnificent Boogie Trip ...