Tuesday 29 March 2011

Audio Mobility - Cassette Snapshots #1

After the success of its C81 collaboration with Rough Trade in early 1981 the NME launched a long-running series of tape compilations. The first release in this series was the Dancin’ Master cassette which was ‘assembled’ in Autumn 1981. Where C81 placed a particular emphasis on showcasing sounds from small labels with a strong Rough Trade-related presence, the Dancin’ Master comes at the pop thing from a different, much more colourfully corporate, bigger-budget, angle with a pronounced Island-linked leaning. The tape is a bit of a mess, with several of the major attractions represented by live tracks or reworkings. But the appeal of the big guns, like The Jam, The Beat, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, will have been a useful way of capturing the attention of readers.
The rhetoric around the Dancin’ Master cassette reflects how pop had evolved during 1981. The cover proclaims: “Heart/Beat x Body/Motion + Soul/Sound = Dance Commotion”. The new emphasis was on the communal if imaginary dancefloor, where as it was easy to envisage C81 being about dancing alone in the bedroom or living room. If C81 set the tone with Scritti’s The ‘Sweetest’ Girl, then Dancin’ Master set its stall out with a version of Tom Browne’s Funkin’ For Jamaica. You could write several books about the contrasts and similarities between those two tracks alone.
The Tom Browne track is perfectly followed by a great track from Linx, who were one of three acts to feature on both C81 and Dancin’ Master. From a perspective of 30-odd years on the three British funk tracks featured on Dancin’ Master (Junior Giscombe and Beggar & Co. are also included) sound particularly brilliant. It’s tempting to argue they sound so great that there must have been some sort of subsequent conspiracy to suppress or stifle their magnificence. Although knowing the UK music industry it’s doubtless more a case of general ignorance and lack of imagination, not knowing how to develop the homegrown talent, thus shooting itself in the foot.
There is a strong New York presence on this collection, reflecting how the city had become very much the place to look for inspiration. The attention had been on Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh, but suddenly New York had a glamour that was not to be found in the UK’s creative centres. Early Sugarhill rap tracks from Grandmaster Flash and Funky Four + 1 still sound perfect alongside recordings by Kid Creole and the Coconuts and James White and the Blacks. This was at a time when parts of the pop media were getting very excited about Ze Records and the whole Mutant Disco thing was about to take off, Island was handling distribution etc., and August Darnell was understandably enough considered to be the saviour of the human race. The Kid Creole track included on Dancin’ Master was a live romp through his old Machine disco classic There But For The Grace Of God Go I, and the James White track was the August Darnell disco remodelling of Contort Yourself.
There is the temptation to read too much into a tape, but the absence of electronic ‘new pop’ outfits is intriguing. It’s probably only a question of timing and practicalities. Synthesizers, however, are really only represented by the Japanese contingent, which was Yellow Magic Orchestra-protégée Susan, and The Plastics covering The Monkees.
UK reggae was well represented. The legendary Lloyd Coxsone of Sir Coxsone Sound is featured with Zion Bound. It would, I confess, be another 12-odd years before I hear the King of the Dub Rock sets Coxsone made, when they appeared on CD. Zion Bound was from the second of these, which ironically featured Sly & Robbie blurring the lines between the UK underground and Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point revolution. Dennis Bovell was also featured on Dancin’ Master with Better which would also appear on his Brain Damage LP, a record which even by the mixed-up standards of the early ‘80s featured an astonishing array of styles. Dennis also appeared with his dub mix of The Polecats’ Rockabilly Guy, which again illustrates how lines could become delightfully blurred. It’s actually amusing now watching old Top of the Pops footage of The Polecats from ’81, with Boz Boorer there with his quiff and Gretsch, to note how soon afterwards The Smiths would be treading the same revivalist boards. Although if you are going to look back it would be more worthwhile to spend 40 minutes or so with this 1981 documentary on sound systems in London, which heavily features Six Coxsone Sound. Credit must be given to Dreadphotos for sharing this valuable footage:

Sunday 27 March 2011

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal - Pt.7

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal is the latest in our series of mixtapes, and it can be downloaded for free here. I suspect there would have been a time when mention of Portuguese music might have made me think immediately and exclusively of Ana Da Silva, who was born in Portugal and while 'in exile' in London joined The Raincoats to make unprecedented music. Many, many years after The Raincoats' amazing debut 7" Ana made a lovely LP for the (at the time) fantastic Chicks On Speed label. Her LP, The Lighthouse, was surprisingly electronic and great fun. The 'cuckoo in the nest' was her cover of Modinha, the beautiful song written by Antonio Carlos Jobim & Vinicius De Moraes. Ana's interpretation is a collaboration with Stuart Moxham (her one-time co-revolutionary chez Rough Trade), and it's gorgeous. Ana's voice is crackly, and I may be making this up as I go along but there seems a strong suggestion of the fado (Portuguese blues)tradition in Ana's delivery.
It was a civilised tradition when practically every LP released featured a Jobim-related song, and I still applaud Ana and Stuart for reviving that. Modinha has been recorded by many, and there is a very special version by Nana Caymmi who has one of my very favourite voices. But there is something about this performance by Tom Jobim and Elis Regina ...

Thursday 24 March 2011

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal - Pt.6

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal is the latest in our series of mixtapes, and it can be downloaded for free here. The mix in terms of time and sound is very much what might be called pre-punk. In fact the whole Anywhere Else But Here Today trans-global pop adventure had deliberately steered clear of punk/new wave sounds. But occasionally while carrying out investigations some fantastic punk era treasures have popped-up unexpectedly. And that certainly happened while rummaging around for Portuguese treasures.
I have to confess I was totally delighted to stumble across this clip of Aqui d'el-Rock, a Portuguese punk outfit, who made this fantastic film for local TV in 1978. The sound is very hard punk rock in the spirit of the Saints/Damned. Indeed the look of the group and the feel of the video reminds me of the much-viewed clip of the Saints doing (I'm) Stranded. I can't add much more about Aqui d'el-Rock. I know they released a couple of singles, but this is all you need:

And then I chanced upon a clip of the group Street Kids performing the track Propaganda on TV. It is wonderful stuff, and oozes 1981 in so many ways. It reminds me of one of those groups like B-Movie or Music For Pleasure that combined synths with a real driving dance-sound. And the look is VERY reminiscent of The Teardrop Explodes/Scars, complete with those dreadful Afghan scarf type things draped round the neck, which makes me think of a certain Mr Cope. I can add very little about Street Kids, but I think I am right in saying that the keyboards player was Nuno Canavarro who released an LP in 1988 called Plux Quba, which would become a massive cult favourite. It features Nuno using electronics, melodica, and pre-recorded tapes, and tracks like Cave sound years ahead of their time - Jim O'Rourke reissued it - and you'd almost swear it was a lost Warp release, or even something that could be enthusiastically reviewed in The Wire this month. It's a strange and gorgeous record, but I won't pretend I've known of it for years. I have to confess I only discovered it following clues from this ...

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal - Pt.5

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal is the latest in our series of mixtapes, and it can be downloaded for free here. One of the stars of the mix is Tonicha, singing Já chegou a liberdade. I understand Tonicha has been over the years one of the most successful pop figures in Portugal. She represented her country in the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest, singing the brilliant Menina, and if you hunt around on the web you will find some great photos, pic sleeves etc. of Tonicha in her pop prime. Ironically I first came across her music while rooting around randomly, and found a great track enthusiastically tagged 'acid folk'. It is quite amusing when rummaging around to note how pervasive the tag 'acid folk' has become, and I'm still not sure if it is helpful or not to use the label on each and every recording from any part of the world that blends traditional folk music with a suggestion of electric guitars.
I have yet to come up with a convenient shorthand of my own for what seems another universal art form. In the 1960s there was a worldwide trend for wonderfully dramatic ballads which seem to fuse ultra-emotional soul-style songs with more traditional local pop forms. Dusty Springfield is the UK example, Italy had Mina, and pretty much any country you care to choose has its own wonderful and often odd examples of this art form. But what is a convenient catch-all for this strand of pop history? I mean, I hate labels, but sometimes ... Anyway, here is a clip of Tonicha from 1968 giving a great performance of this very art form:

Saturday 19 March 2011

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal - Pt.4

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal is the latest in our series of mixtapes, and it can be downloaded for free here. One of the highlights of the mix is Maria Rita by Duo Ouro Negro. I have been half expecting someone to point out that the duo was not actually from Portugal at all, which would be true enough. The pair, Raul Indipwo and Milo MacMahon, were originally from Angola. And I can’t even claim that they were based in Portugal all the time. As true internationalists, they lived and performed all over the place, and their music reflected that. But they certainly are closely associated with Portugal, and it was via the Portuguese TV special Rua D’Iliza that I first stumbled across Duo Ouro Negro. This was a musical drama the pair produced, drawing heavily on their Angolan roots, and it’s such a glorious infectious work. It’s certainly one of my favourite posts over at Anywhere Else But Here Today.
Predicatably I’m no expert on the work of Duo Ouro Negro, but from what I’ve heard I absolutely love the way their sound is so fantastically mixed-up. At one moment their vocal harmonies are as sweet as the Everly Brothers, but then you consider there seem to be traces of African folk sounds, Cuban music, Brazilian samba and a whole lot more at any one time. An internet favourite is a 1959 recording with the Brazilian accordionist Sivuca, which is exquisite. And a favourite of mine is their version of the Indonesian lullaby Suliram, which oddly I first heard via the Yugoslavian singer Oivera Vuco, who recorded it in 1966. Coincidentally Olivera and Duo Ouro Negro were at various times in the ‘60s the toast of Paris at the Olympia. In fact Duo Ouro Negro are credited with making kwela the hippest dance craze in Paris in the mid-‘60s. But I always thought kwela was from South Africa ...
This is my particular favourite Duo Ouro Negro track which is simply gorgeous. I wish I could find footage of the pair singing it, but for now:

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal - Pt.3

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal is the latest in our series of mixtapes, and it can be downloaded for free here. The collection draws heavily on the folk songs or canção de intervenção that were part of the protest movement against the totalitarian regime in Portugal, and the performers were an important part of the resistance that led to The Carnation Revolution on 24 April 1974. Among the featured artists is Luis Cilia, with a fantastic track from his 1973 LP, Contra A Ideia Da Violência A Violência Da Ideia. I have to confess it was the title of that set that initially attracted me while I was rummaging around in the treasure troves of vintage Portuguese music, and the title track itself is remarkable. I am far from being an authority on the music of Luis Cilia, but I do know he was exiled from Portugal for a decade or so from 1964. Almost inevitably he lived and recorded in Paris, the city of exiles, where he continued to make a nuisance of himself as an outspoken critic of the policies of the Portuguese authorities at home and abroad (e.g. in Angola, where Cilia was born). The theme of exile in Paris is a familiar one with the Anywhere Else But Here Today/Your Heart Out projects.
Unsurprisingly, the singers who are included in the canção de intervenção movement, and who found support among or supported the left-wing opposition groups in Portugal, were not featured on TV and so sadly there is not much in the way of archival footage. Fortunately, with Luis Cilia the opposite is true. There seem to be quite a few pieces of film of Luis performing while in exile in Paris, where he looks wonderfully like a young Jean-Pierre Leaud.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal - Pt.2

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal is the latest in our series of mixtapes, and it can be downloaded for free here. The collection draws heavily on the folk songs or canção de intervenção that were part of the protest movement against the totalitarian regime in Portugal, and the performers were an important part of the resistance that led to The Carnation Revolution on 24 April 1974.
The whole issue of protest songs, and the question about whether music can actually change anything, can be debated eternally. But at a time when parts of the world are in turmoil as people rise up against long-standing authoritarian regimes, The Carnation Revolution seems strangely topical. And pop songs really did play a part in that particular 'revolution'. Two songs in particular were to play a part in those momentous events, acting as secret signals. The first was the broadcast of E Depois do Adeus by Paulo de Carvalho, Portugal's entry in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. This was a signal to alert the left-leaning rebel officers within the military that the coup was to begin.
Is it ironic that it was to be a seemingly innocuous pop song that would be the trigger for momentous events, or is it appropriate? After all, what did troops sing when they fought fascists in WW2?
Paulo de Carvalho had been in the '60s a member of the Portuguese beat group Os Sheiks, who produced some great recordings such as Missing You. Revolutionary stuff in its way, but it is this song that has a special place in Portuguese history ...
The other song that sparked The Carnation Revolution is Grândola, Vila Morena by Jose Afonso (or Zeca Afonso, as he is also known). On April 25, 1974, at 12:20am the song was broadcast on Portuguese radio as a signal for the start of the revolution that overthrew the authoritarian regime. The coup itself was relatively peaceful, and against advice many ordinary people poured onto the streets of Lisbon to show support to the officers leading the overthrow. Carnations were taken from the flower markets and used as a symbol of victory and peace, hence the name.
The Jose Afonso song was an appropriate one, as it had been banned by the Estado Novo regime for what it saw as communist associations. In other words, it was a perfect choice for the officers to use as a trigger for action against the old regime.
Jose Afonso was a key figure in the protest song movement for many years before The Carnation Revolution and an inspiring figure for many who sought to bring about the end of an unpopular right wing regime. I am no expert on the music of Jose Afonso but what I've heard spectacularly transcends the stereotype of earnest protest song. The Coro dos Tribunais and Eu Vou Ser Como A Toupeira LPs from the early '70s, for example, are fantastic and feature some wonderfully inventive songs that fit very nicely alongside some of the Brazilian records of the same era by the likes of Edu Lobo and Chico Buarque.
The song itself, Grândola, Vila Morena, has understandably taken on a life of its own. It was later covered by Charlie Haden and Carla Bley on the 1983 LP The Ballad of the Fallen. The wonderful fado singer Amalia Rodrigues also recorded a very moving version. But here's the Jose Afonso one ...

Thursday 10 March 2011

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal

Freedom Now: Sounds of Portugal is the latest in our series of mixtapes, and it can be downloaded for free here. The collection draws heavily on the folk songs or canção de intervenção that were part of the protest movement against the totalitarian regime in Portugal, and the performers were an important part of the resistance that led to The Carnation Revolution on 24 April 1974. The folk music itself featured here (from before the revolution and after) is incredibly inventive and seems to absorb all sorts of influences, such as French, Brazilian and African popular song. There's plenty of pop included in this mix, too, featuring some of the artists included in the Portuguese sequences here. Special thanks, as ever, go to Per-Christian Hille for the fantastic cover.

Monday 7 March 2011

Skimming Stones - the confession pt.2

If I had been really clever when putting together Skimming Stones, the special issue of Your Heart Out which can be downloaded for free here, and mentioned the great lost pop book Signed Sealed And Delivered by Sue Steward and Sheryl Garrett, which was published by Pluto Press in 1984 I could have gone on and made some interesting connections. Pluto Press as a publishing house is rooted in grassroots left-wing politics, and in its ‘70s heyday Michael and Nina Kidron were at the helm. One of their sons, Adam, would for a time practically be the in-house producer for Rough Trade records. Intriguingly the Kidron connection has not really been explored anywhere in detail (or indeed any parallels between organisations such as Rough Trade and Pluto Press). Simon Reynolds’ Ripping Yarns fail to mention Adam. And Neil (C86 – oh the shame of it) Taylor’s surprisingly readable oral history of the Rough Trade label, Document And Eyewitness, only has passing mentions to Adam. And, boy, do Green and The Smiths come across as buffoons, but that’s one of many digressions I could make (such as who wants to read about the later years?).
Ironically, it’s now 30 years since the NME/Rough Trade cassette C81 appeared, and it was (and remains) a thrillingly exciting and beautiful thing. Adam Kidron is in many ways a ghostly presence behind much of the music on that cassette. He was, after all, engineer or producer on records as wonderful as The Raincoats’ Odyshape, Robert Wyatt’s Nothing Can Stop Us, Pere Ubu’s Songs of the Bailing Man, Zounds’ The Curse Of, Panther Burns’ Blow Your Top, David Thomas’ The Sound of the Sand, and titles by Essential Logic, Aztec Camera, and Red Crayola. He was also at the controls for three records which as a kid really were not the records I was hoping for: Scritti’s Songs To Remember, the OJs’ You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, and Delta 5’s See The Whirl.
And yet, for all that, for someone involved with several of the best records ever, I know very little about Adam’s way of working and thinking. I suspect he was keen to take underground pop into territories more usually associated with soul and reggae. But I have little to back that up. Most mentions on the internet are about Adam’s later entrepreneurial activities, but there is a recent revealing passage on his own blog where he ponders: “Compounding the industry’s problems is that music is not as essential it was. In London, in the late 70’s, it was the primary expression of our tribal and life-style affiliations. ‘Soul boys’ listened to R&B, ‘skinheads’ to ska, ‘punks’ to near-music, ‘metal-heads’ to hard rock, and every weekend I would hang out at import shops listening to the latest reggae pre-release, before taking the best home and spinning them in solitude, in Hi-Fi, on my stereo system! I don’t know anybody who listens to music like that anymore, certainly not my daughters or their friends, who graze it while eating, reading and banging out blogs. Music, once a recreational activity, has become the soundtrack to our lives, and the consequence of its new role is that we are never going to pay premium for it again.”
Ironically for someone who worked as an engineer on James Blood Ulmer’s fantastic LP Are You Glad To Be In America? Adam much later created a right old rumpus when, as a leading reggaeton promoter, in 2006 he was involved in the recording of a Spanish version of the American national anthem to promote immigrants’ rights. The Guardian when reporting it missed the opportunity to mention his Rough Trade connections.
Amusingly Adam’s Wikipedia entry refers readers to an old article I wrote as a tribute to Lizzy Mercier Descloux. The old Rough Trade distribution network’s publication Masterbag in a July 1982 issue mentions, under the heading of Funky Stuff, how “after completing his own LP Green of Scritti Politti is taking a break in Paris to play guitar on the new album by French funk singer, Lizzy Mercier Descloux. The album is to be produced by Adam Kidron (who also worked on Scritti Politti’s album!). Angus Kaye of Aswad will be drumming.” Well, it didn’t quite work out that way, but Adam did fall in love with Lizzy and join her and Michel Esteban on their African and Brazilian adventures. Here’s something for the soul ...

Friday 4 March 2011

Skimming Stones - the confession

If I had been really clever when putting together Skimming Stones, the special issue of Your Heart Out which can be downloaded for free here,I would have right at the heart of it the 1984 Sue Steward/Sheryl Garratt book, Signed Sealed And Delivered: True Life Stories of Women in Pop. Alas, I only stumbled across a copy after I'd published that edition of YHO, and only then it was pure chance after taking a wrong-turning down a library aisle of forgotten stock while looking for something else completely different. I haven't stopped kicking myself yet, because (ironically) I do recall borrowing a copy from a library when it was first published. I, however, haven't seen a copy in 25-odd years nor have I seen it mentioned in the big boys' bibliographies.
With the benefit of hindsight, SS&D actually comes across now as one of the greatest pop books ever. It tells its stories well, and the discography is remarkable and probably the coolest ever. So many of the people referred to in YHO's ackpages are mentioned: Ranking Ann, Betty Carter, Adele Bertei, Delta 5, ESG, Viv Goldman, Marcia Griffiths, Nazia Hassan, Annette Peacock, Flora Purim, Sylvia Robinson, Caroll Thompson, Weekend, Lotti Golden & Warp 9. Such great taste is to be expected given its authors. Sue Steward, for example, has special importance in British popular culture for her determined work in broadening musical horizons. And I'm wincing slightly at the description of Collusion as an "irregular music magazine". Oh well.
It has to be said SS&D also looks fantastic. It contains many great photos, from the likes of Val Wilmer and David Corio, and in particular Kerstin Rodgers and Annie (Anna) Arnone. The shots included of the Raincoats and Slits are among the best that have been published. But more pertinently for YHO there are brilliant live pictures of and references to the reggae outfits Abacush and African Woman (aka Akabu). Grrr. What a missed opportunity. Could've looked really clever there. And the cover star is Annie Whitehead, who around the time of publication was playing with Working Week: "It's going to get harder the papers say ..."

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Skimming Stones ... twelve times

Skimming Stones, the special issue of Your Heart Out which can be downloaded for free here, concludes with a mention of the record Archie Pool's R.A.P.P. Presents Wicked City, which was produced by Dennis Bovell and released on Dick O'Dell's Y label. It's not the first time it's been mentioned wistfully in the back pages of YHO, and who knows with a birthday looming in a few days time perhaps someone will take a hint? Hmmm. I can't add much about the record. R.A.P.P. I believe refers to Radical Alliance of (Black) Poets & Players. Archie himself is an actor. He played Dreadhead in Babylon. And Stephen Bourne's excellent book Black In The British Frame refers to Archie appearing in a couple of Horace Ové films: one being, A Hole In Babylon, for the BBC's Play For Today in 1979 about the 1975 Spaghetti House seige, and the other being the 1987 Channel 4 comedy drama Playing Away, written by Caryl Phillips, about a cricket team from Brixton playing a friendly match in a well-to-do Suffolk village. Another of the featured vocalists on the LP, Cassie McFarlane, is also mentioned in the book for her part in the 1981 film Burning An Illusion.
The Wicked City LP (from 1982)features an all-star cast of backing musicians, and a sleeve by Tessa Pollitt. A couple of tracks, thankfully , have appeared on YouTube (god bless the posters). But I am still yearning to hear the 12 minute Court Room drama and the closing Blues Party.