Saturday 26 February 2011

Skimming Stones ... eleven times

Nick Plytas is one of the stars of Skimming Stones, the special issue of Your Heart Out which can be downloaded for free here, for the essential role he has played in the making of many an On-U Sound release. It, however, is acknowledged that I have no idea how he came to be part of the set-up. It is, after all, a bit of a sideways step from the pub rock-not-pub rock of Roogalator - or is it? There is also a bit of a confession within the pages of this edition of YHO, which is that I have on occasions got my Nick Plytas mixed up with my Nick Straker. Nick Straker was an old school friend of Dennis Bovell, and played in the early line-up of Matumbi. Sometime later Nick pretty much accidentally became a pop star when his track A Walk In The Park became a disco smash. Again, a little further down the road, he found himself on the ultra-cool Prelude label with his song A Little Bit of Jazz a perennial Paradise Garage favourite. Nick, however, wasn't comfortable with being a star and prefered playing in Dennis Bovell's Dub Band ...

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Skimming Stones ... ten times

Skimming Stones, the special issue of Your Heart Out which can be downloaded for free here, mentions the strange world of Lightning Records. Along with its reggae re-leases Lightning also somehow managed to pick up on the two early Snatch singles. The second of which, the high art Girl Group update, All I Want/When I'm Bored, was even a minor hit. That may have had a lot to do with the incredibly elaborate and oh so glamorous cover photos of Patti Paladin and Judy Nylon. The pair's work is ridiculously undervalued, and they have recorded too little. Judy did at least go on to make the astonishing Pal Judy LP with Adrian Sherwood for On-U Sound, which features Live In A Lift, one of the most beautiful dub lovers tracks. Play this next to the YHO-featured Can't Take My Eyes Off You by Fitzroy Henry, and you have the perfect sequence. Patti and Judy were well-connected, and Judy for example worked with Eno pre-punk. She is seen here with Polly Eltes (who later sang with Jah Wobble and with Michael Karoli) in a piece of promo-film, recently salvaged, for China My China ...

Sunday 20 February 2011

Skimming Stones ... nine times

Skimming Stones, the special issue of Your Heart Out which can be downloaded for free here, touches on the strange story of Lightning Records which completely defies the prevailing narrative about small labels in the late '70s. It was not a media insider's plaything. It was a genuine small business, and openly opportunistic. It had a bizarrely mixed catalogue (novelty numbers, football anthems, punk cash-ins) but it also picked up on and made available widely some of the greatest reggae records ever, and through a WEA distribution deal had some massive hits, including Dennis Brown's Money In My Pocket and Althea & Donna's Uptown Top Ranking. One of the earliest reggae records it picked up on was the lovers version of Feel Like Making Love by Elizabeth Archer & the Equators, with its even more astonishing dub side. It was a massive favourite of John Peel's in 1977. And yet, for such a great record, I confess I know practically nothing about where it came from. The only other place I have seen Elizabeth's name is as a backing singer on Prince Far I's Cry Tuff Chapter 3, along with Ari Up and Viv Goldman. Somehow, knowing Lightning's way of working, I have always asumed the single was a Jamaican recording, though there was a West Midlands reggae outfit called The Equators, an inspiration to The Beat etc.,who later recorded for Stiff.
One other incredibly important thing about Lightning was its Old Gold arm. Long before the recycling industry got going Old Gold was a label that made available a haphazard selection from pop's past on 7" singles which were sold in high street stores. So, for example, when Kevin Rowland said he listened to Aretha Franklin singing I Say A Little Prayer every morning, Old Gold made it possible for young kids to do the same thing before going to school. That would have been around the time of the extreme romanticism of the Projected Passion Revue ...

Thursday 17 February 2011

Skimming Stones ... eight times

Skimming Stones, the special issue of Your Heart Out which can be downloaded for free here, mentions the pub rock outfit Clancy, for which Barry Ford played drums. One of the group's founders was Colin Bass, who is one of that wonderfully confounding breed of musicians whose CV defies logic. Among the records Colin has been part of is his (former Clancy colleague) Gaspar Lawal's revolutionary Ajomase LP from 1980. One track from this set, Kita Kita, was given a new lease of life when it appeared on the Strut collection Nigeria 70. Another star of that collection, is Joni Haastrup, who was heavily in the production of Gaspar's 1980 LP. Joni's own LP, Wake Up Your Mind, which features classics like Free My People, is an absolute 'must have' as well. The same can be said for the MonoMono LPs he was part of. In 1985 Gaspar Lawal played on the charity single, billed as an alternative to Band Aid, which appeared on Madness' Zarjazz label. One side of the single was Tam Tam Pour L’Ethiopie which featured something of a who’s who of African performers. It also appeared as the first track on a NME cassette called All Africa Radio which gave a wonderful introduction to the sounds coming out of Africa at that time. Gaspar appeared on the other side, with what was essentially a 2 Tone all-stars line-up, which was an update of The Pioneers' Starvation.

Monday 14 February 2011

Skimming Stones ... seven times

Skimming Stones, the latest issue of Your Heart Out which can be downloaded for free here, mentions how the great Mike Dorane was part of the line-up of UK reggae group Merger which released the fantastic and distinctly odd (in the context of UK reggae in 1977) Exiles In A Babylon LP. But knowing what we know now about the influences and interests Dorane had that's not surprising. Barry Ford, who played in that Merger line-up too, is perhaps best known now for his part in Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. But he has an intriguing history. He was, for example, part of Noir, an all-black progressive outfit in the early '70s, who released a great lost LP called We Had To Let You Have It. That Noir line-up also featured guitarist Gordon Hunte who would later be part of pioneering UK funk outfit Gonzales, whose first LP featured the amazing (and very topical still) No Way. Merger, perhaps a little surprisingly for a UK reggae group without any big label investment, appeared in 1977 on the Old Grey Whistle Test, with Pam Nestor on backing vocals, which is another story touched upon in the current edition ...

Friday 11 February 2011

Skimming Stones ... six times

Skimming Stones, the latest issue of Your Heart Out, which can be downloaded for free here, looks at what happened to Mike Dorane after the Disco Dub Band failed to set the charts on fire, and his Rockers/Movers labels disappeared. It's not easy picking up the traces, but he certainly did quite a bit of work with the legendary Jah Shaka, and he had a long-standing working relationship with the Twinkle Brothers. This started when the Twinkle Brothers were signed to Virgin's Front Line label, and Mike mixed the extraordinary disco 12" of Jahoviah. He worked with the Twinkle Brothers on a series of great LPs when Norman Grant moved to the UK at the start of the '80s, and there are all sorts of highlights to explore, like Mob Fury, from the Respect & Honour LP. Norman Grant and the Twinkle Brothers' story took a fascinating twist at the end of the '80s when he started another long-running partnership with the Polish traditional folk ensemble, the Trebunie-Tutki family who recorded with the Twinkle Brothers a number of times, most notably perhaps on the essential Dub With Strings set ...

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Skimming Stones ... five times

One of the stories at the heart of Skimming Stones, the special issue of Your Heart Out which can be downloaded for free here, is that of Mike Dorane. In 1976 the legendary version of For The Love Of Money by the Disco Dub Band was released. Until recently I assumed it was very much the work of black music writer Davitt Sigerson, which fitted nicely with the later Ze connection. But gradually the role of Mike Dorane emerged as studio wizard and the person behind two labels funded by Island: Rockers and Movers. History hasn't been kind to Dorane's story, and only snippets survive of the labels' output. Among the fragments is the remarkable Can'tTake My Eyes Off You by Fitzroy Henry which has such a sly, slinky dub funk groove it's astonishing. It was at the start of the '70s that Dorane arrived in the UK and became involved with the reggae scene. I guess now his best known recording is Penguin Funk, his collaboration with The Cimarons, from 1972. The Cimarons' own story is such an important one too, spanning the early Pama era through to the punk age when they often played for the Rock Against Racism and even toured with Sham 69 at the peak of their audience's notoriety.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Skimming Stones ... forth

The work of Mark Lusardi is at the heart of Skimming Stones, the special issue of Your Heart Out which can be downloaded for free here. As well as the fantastic work he did on the UK reggae scene his engineering talents were also sought after because of his PiL connections. Killing Joke, for example, worked with him on their first single, and Turn To Red for example still sounds incredible and frightening. Another Malicious Damage act Red Beat worked with Lusardi, and came up with an amazing debut. I guess Mark Lusardi's long-running working relationship with Jah Wobble is what he is best known for. They have worked together on many releases, including How Much Are They? (with Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit) and the Fading 12". I'm not sure how many records Jah Wobble has worked on for other artists, but he, Ollie Marland and Mark Lusardi were certainly involved with a couple of EPs for punkpoet Joolz, including The Kiss. I would suggest all this provides a great excuse to return to this rare Wobble interview.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Skimming Stones ... thrice

One of the main themes in Skimming Stones, a special edition of Your Heart Out which is available to download for free here is the work of Mark Lusardi at the mixing desk. Mention is made, for example, of the many UK reggae recordings he has been involved in, with the likes of Adrian Sherwood, Dennis Bovell, and so on. There is a whole host of great records to mention, such as The Simeons' Dub Conference In London (which includes Mark At The Controls), Lion Youth's Love Comes And Goes, and Massive Horns' Merrie Melodies LP which featured Annie Whitehead among the players. It wasn't just underground favourites Mark was involved with either. Black Slate's Amigo became an unexpected Top 10 hit. And the Clint Eastwood and General Saint record Mark engineered in his Mark Angelo studio for Greensleeves became another crossover favourite, with the DJ duo making an unlikely appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test ...