Tuesday 17 May 2011

Hiss & Shake - Legg's Eleven pt. 5

Supermarkets’ in-store seemingly random radio selections can make or break a day. On the plus side, hearing an old song unexpectedly can put a spring in the step and a smile on the face. There are certain songs heard in this way that work wonders, but you know full well you’d hardly if ever play them at home. A fantastic example is Sign Your Name by Terence Trent D’Arby, which still has the power to surprise with its slinky, stripped-down, electro bossa wiles. It’s one of those songs that when heard involuntarily lingers and wheedles its way into the brain unforgivingly, but do I play it from choice like I should do?
I don’t know what the official line on Terence Trent D’Arby (or rather Sananda Maitreya, as he is now known) is these days. It’s easy to view the phenomenal success of Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby as something altogether too tasteful to be true, or as a victory for style culture consensual soul sheen. But the LP was put together in defiance of industry indifference, and it only got made through the determination of Martyn Ware, who was its main producer while Phil Legg “sonically captured and psycho-acoustically assaulted” the tracks.
I have to confess that I am irrationally allergic to the whole Heaven 17 thing. There’s a great Fire Engines interview that Davy Henderson did (with Innes Reekie) where he accuses the Heaven 17/BEF team of being “directly responsible for us being stuck with the ‘simply the best’ mentality, it was their fault Tina Turner’s career was resurrected, and it all became very traditional and extremely conservative at that point. That mentality they, BEF, created, is a cancer on our society as we speak.”
Apart from an occasional track like The Associates’ remarkable Those First Impressions and one or two on Tina Turner’s Private Dancer (and we have half of Gallagher & Lyle to blame for What’s Love Got To Do With It?), the only record I know of that Martyn Ware produced before Terence TD is the Promises LP by Allez Allez from 1983 which, despite the occasional Heaven 17 tendency towards Red Army choir style backing vocals, increasingly has the hallmark of a lost classic. It’s a record that captures the awkward moment where prickly punk funk was necking with sleek new pop with sometimes messy, sometimes magnificent results.
Allez Allez had evolved from the Belgian outfit Marine which released the insanely infectious Crepescule classic Life In Reverse. Demonstrating the way pop music was progressing Allez Allez recorded African Queen as a tribute to Grace Jones who at the time was sending tidal waves through the industry. Their singer at the time of Promises was the superb Sarah Osborne, who during the sessions won the heart of and married BEF-er Glenn Gregory. Over the years much would be written about new pop’s influence on techno, and in a wonderful piece of one-upmanship Sarah would in the early ‘90s be invited to paint a mural at the legendary Detroit venue, The Music Institute, design the sleeve for Rhythim Is Rhythim’s The Beginning, and sing for Carl Craig on Psyche’s Crack Down, Wrap Me In Its Arms, and As Time Goes By (Sitting Under A Tree), which reappeared on his phenomenal LP More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art.
The best songs on the Allez Allez LP were the ballads where they created something of a slow disco burn close to, say, Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King’s Love Come Down, so it’s easy to see how Martyn Ware might be keen to have a go at his own thing on a Prince, Michael Jackson, Cameo, Jam & Lewis type theme. And there’s no doubt Terence Trent D’Arby’s debut LP was a genuine success, yielding four massive hits. One of these, If You Let Me Stay, featured Bruce Smith on drums, Sean Oliver on bass, Nick Plytas on keyboards, which makes it practically an On-U Sound personnel session. It also features (jazz legend) Frank Ricotti on drums, who at the time was very involved with the music for Alan Plater’s Beiderbecke Trilogy TV classic, and Tony Jackson on backing vocals whom I assume is the guy who was in the fantastic Sweet Dreams with the great Polly Browne. Sean Oliver also co-wrote Terence’s hit Wishing Well, providing another link to the Bristol/Ladbroke Grove Pop Group/Slits/New Age Steppers/On-U Sound tradition. Incidentally, there is a David Corio photo of a very young Sean Oliver outside of Ladbroke Grove station in January 1981, which is just so evocative, and it’s sad to think that a decade later he was dead.
Around the time of The Hardline Sean Oliver was working on another project, Oldland Montano’s The Time Has Come, which from this distant perspective can be considered as an important if ignored signpost pointing in one direction to Sade, lovers rock and smooth soul, and towards Soul II Soul, Massive Attack and the Young Disciples in the other. The record itself vanished pretty much without trace after its release in 1988, although Michelle ‘Misty’ Oldland appeared as a backing singer on Terence Trent D’Arby’s The Hardline, and had some later success as a solo singer. The LP featured a great cover of Rip Rig & Panic’s Sunken Love , from their Attitude LP, a gorgeous song that is a useful reminder that RR&P were always more than madcap beatniks.
Along the way Rip Rig & Panic became briefly and brilliantly Float Up CP, which perhaps was the straightest Gareth Sager ever played the pop game. The succulently lush Kill Me In The Morning LP is another of the great lost Rough Trade releases, and it contains some classic moments like the haunting The Loneliest Girl which hints at some of the future directions Sean Oliver and Neneh Oliver would take. There is a great interview on Bill Brewster’s DJHistory site with Noel Watson which gives some fantastic background on Sean Oliver and his part in the warehouse party scene before the arrival of house music in London.
The history of house music in the UK contains few stranger stories than Ben Watt’s wonderful emergence as a successful underground DJ and producer. And among Ben’s productions on the Buzzin’ Fly series is his reworking of A Stronger Man featuring the incredible and unmistakeable voice of Sananda Maitreya.


  1. Thanks for the nod towards the Buzzin' Fly comp - been playing it all week.

  2. Excellent piece. Another sad aspect of Sean Oliver's death is that he fathered a child with Tessa Pollitt, but didn't live to see their child grow up.

    When Martyn Ware kickstarted Tina Turner's comeback with "Let's Stay Together", Nick Plytas was on the keyboards. Plytas also produced Neneh Cherry's "Kisses On The Wind", which is another example of the On-U and Rip Rig & Panic connection to the late 80's mainstream. But I think "the straightest Gareth Sager ever played the pop game" was on the last Head album, which was produced by Michael Jonzun.

    And yet another connection: Shara Nelson of Massive Attack sang on several On-U releases (Missing Brazilians, The Circuit, Voice of Authority) years before "Unfinished Sympathy".