Sleevenotes: It’s been a while, the world hasn’t really got any better, but there are still records. Regular listeners — if anyone can remember that far back – will know I have a nerdish obsession with independent record labels: this broadcast is part one of a multiple-part road trip/odyssey through the world of coloured vinyl, limited cassettes, screen-printed and tip-on Stoughton jackets and all things related to the black stuff. Well, for now, I’m just playing the records from a featured bunch of labels I worked my way down the west coast of America talking to this summer. The book should be out in early 2019, published by Omnibus press. As I get closer to publication I’ll start adding some more salient detail to do with the actual book into the broadcasts – once I’ve, er, written it – but for now, it’s mainly just the music put out by the good folk at Mississippi, Sahel Sounds, Constellation Tatsu, Gnome Life, Superior Viaduct, Recital, Vin du Select Qualitite and Light in the Attic records (and one or two other bits and pieces early on). (And, in an attempt to keep the spirit of John Peel alive, when I say ‘Virginia Trance’ by Henry Flynt, I actually mean ‘Congo’ by Henry Flynt. Though, in truth, I meant to play the former.) The journey starts out in Portland with Mississippi Records.
Part two, back in London, hopefully will follow shortly. Thanks for listening: in the words of John Coltrane, ‘May there be peace and love and perfection throughout all creation.’
There’s a paragraph early on in David Stubbs’ fine tome, Future Days, Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany, where he points out that Krautrock isn’t about strong vocal performances. Seventies German music was far more about ‘texture than text,’ he writes. ’The inadequacies of Ralph Hutter’s vocals are not an inadequacy of Kraftwerk, but one of the group’s key defining factors. Had Tangerine Dream featured a Jon Anderson-type vocalist, it would have undermined one of the strong implications of their early work — that the cosmos is awesome and that, for all the ego and subjectivity of humans, it is indifferent to us. It’s not all about us.’ He goes on to point out that Germany (and the world) had already had enough of one impassioned vocal performance, one set of ‘fanatical dreams and loathsome prejudices’ imposed upon everyone. In terms of music, it’s why I’ve always struggled with Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson and the rest — it’s just too much, I can’t breathe in here. Far better, as Alice Coltrane once pointed out, to remember we’re all nothing but grains of sands on the infinite beach of the universe — give me the aerated motorik pulse of Neu!, the windmilling drums of Cul de Sac, the simple understated beauty of Joan Shelley and Josephine Foster any day. You can hear the rumbling enormity of the cosmos (as well as the horrors of the twentieth century) in the tape work of Else Marie Pade; and I’m sure even David Bowie, who seemed to age with great dignity, came round to such a humble point of view in the end. (All are featured in the programme.)
But enough of that heaviness. Here’s Vic Mars’ video for a track from his new lp, The Land and the Garden
I was also pleased to read in Future Days that Neu! were apparently good footballers. I saw an excellent Michael Rother gig (thanks, Kevin & Rudi), appropriately enough, in a kind of nightclub/gig venue underneath Stamford Bridge this month. Roman Abramovich’s millions have at least been put to some good use in installing an excellent soundsystem (in a club that feels like a smaller, spruced up version of Rock City in Nottingham). It felt like seeing Neu! live, and I imagine Rother was a skilful, diminutive but tough attacking midfielder, sort of Luka Modric and Alan Ball rolled into one. With the exceptions of New Order, Pat Nevin and John Peel, the intertwined history of football and music is not generally a happy one . . . but then there was Half Man, Half Biscuit, and, in recent times, Derek Hammond of Yeah Yeah No has produced a fine series of books detailing lost aspects of football culture . . . and now, in flagrant contradiction of the sentiment in the opening paragraph above, please indulge us in a second of internet self-promotion, and don’t delay in placing your orders with all good newsagents and booksellers (or here) for The Heyday of the Football Annual, myself and Doug Cheeseman’s humble offering in the overcrowded retro-football marketplace. Features folk troubadour, Bert Jansch fan and Birmingham City midfielder Trevor Hockey, Honor Blackman’s thoughts on life at Craven Cottage, Liverpool’s Billy Liddell playing electric guitar, Glasgow Rangers’ squad ‘swinging the Clyde blues’, and much more. (Original hardback, annual-size printing, disappearing fast.)
October sleevenotes: I first heard ‘Blue Monday’ on a waltzer at Goose Fair in Nottingham, blaring out of the speakers. It blew my head off; it sounded fantastic. That would have been in October 1983; I’d’ve just started sixth-form college. I can’t feel quite so ecstatic about the new New Order lp, but it’s certainly very listenable, and, I dunno, but watching their 6 Music session from Maida Vale on late-night TV the other night there seemed something very dignified, almost humble, about their comeback ‒ something in the way they carried themselves. Peter Hook would possibly beg to differ; but I love the 1983-sounding guitar line in the track, ‘Nothing But A Fool’, included here. The past weighs a bit heavy on this show: I’ve pulled out a few reissued classics from twenty years ago ‒ Oval’s Systemisch; David Kaufmann and Eric Caboor’s Songs from Suicide Bridge (not that I knew that lp back then) ‒ and from forty years back some new/old Lee Perry and Upsetters’ tracks. Light in the Attic, Paradise of Bachelors, Pressure Sounds, Hot Milk, Fire records . . . old news to some of you, I’m sure, but these days I find myself eagerly checking out the new release schedules of these labels and (many) more. There’s a nice mix of old stuff, and new. I never really understand why more people don’t seem to follow labels rather than bands or solo acts. As the type across the bottom of the sleeve of my battered 12” of A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Finley’s Rainbow’ says, ‘Remember, you’ll never know where it’s at until you learn where it’s from.’ True dat, even if they did spell ‘until’ wrong ‒ and there’s no credit to the original (Bob Marley’s ?)‘Sun is Shining’. The ‘previously unreleased dubplate mix’ from the Mr Perry, I Presume, the new Lee Perry lp on Pressure Sounds, is a bit spooky, but a beauty. All this provides a good excuse to dig out a drum & bass gem from back in the day; and this video made me laugh. (Especially the comment in the comments along the lines of, ‘This dancing, what is that?’)
We went to Goose Fair this year. The waltzer had a brake pedal and a taut wire, allowing you to really work up some stomach-churning revolutions. The cakewalk was bonkers; my daughter Edie won the Kentucky Derby; there was mushy peas and mint sauce (heaven) and beautiful autumn sunshine. There was just one person missing. RIP, Dad. I hope they’re playing Lonnie Donegan, Acker Bilk and Louis Armstrong up there.
A Wednesday lunchtime at Ronnie Scott’s.
The sun shining down on to dancefloor in the upstairs bar; a nice-looking drum kit tucked away at the back; an ice-cold beer, with some old friends, just after midday. Brilliant. It doesn’t get much better — and in conversation with Richard Williams was the critic Brian Case, ex-of the NME, Melody Maker and Time Out, and now happily retired, enjoying just listening to music or reading a book without having to strain for an adjective or a rush of adverbs.
Because of my line of work I’ve sat through a fair few literary readings or ‘in conversations’ in my time, mind wandering, trying to remember if I’d turned the oven off before I left, worrying about something ultimately irrelevant at work. But this was different: hugely engaging tales of a life in books and music, of picking Dexter Gordon up from Heathrow Airport in a battered old green van in the rain in 1971; of loving the simple speed of Johnny Griffin; of dealing with the razor-sharp wit of Ronnie (Scott) himself (and the bar’s staff during the venue’s heyday); of the ecstatic life-affirming nature of jazz, but also of ‘down’ writers like David Goodis.
The occasion was to mark the publication of On the Snap by Caught by the River books. The book itself is full of such yarns, the encounters around the pieces of journalism, rather than the journalism itself — hiding behind a breakfast counter of a Danish hotel to check out whether Tom Waits was a fake or not; celebrating the genius of Ian Dury’s rhyming slang; talking about great American writers with Norman Mailer. And on and on. It’s a slim volume, but with a huge canvas.
There are only a couple of jazz tracks in this show, but what beauties: Don Cherry live in Nantes in 1964 and, right at the end, Gerry Mulligan at the Newport Jazz festival in 1958. Serendipitously, it turns out Gerry Mulligan was one of the first jazzers caught live by a young, teenage Brian Case in Deptford.
It’s not really a proper holiday unless I drag everyone miles out of town to an obscure or sought-after record shop. Before the kids were born – well, Ange was heavily pregnant – we managed to alight at the wrong stop on Michigan Avenue, Chicago. ‘It’s only a few blocks further up,’ I cheerily proclaimed. Two hours and several miles on, in the blazing noon-day heat, we arrived at the Quaker Goes Deaf only to find the shop closed because of a flood. ‘But we’ve come all the way from London,’ I whimpered, hopelessly, to the distracted owner. ‘Sorry, man. Next time.’ (There wasn’t a next time – it closed in 2005.)
There was the fantastic electronic/avant-garde retailer in the crumbling old town of Lisbon, which had Wire magazines stapled to the ceiling and in which I spent a fortune – largely on Portuguese improv and electronica and ambient records from Cologne. That was in 1997, when you could still come across goats wandering about the streets; seven years later I think we must have plied our daughter with three or four Heroic World ice-cream tubs to shut her up while I spent an afternoon scouring every street corner, climbing up cobbled passageways and down back alleys. No goats, and no record shop. (It’s not here either, though I wonder if it wasn’t the first incarnation of this, Preterito Perfeito?)Then there was the journey through the outer suburbs of Budapest in search of the city’s finest jazz emporium. Engineering works on the tram perhaps added a couple of hours to that trip. Eventually we made it, on a sweltering Friday afternoon, and haltingly translated the sign in the window: ‘Closed for August’. In more recent times I wish I’d taken greater advantage of the jazz retailers of Helsinki; and I’m still paying off a splurge in New York from a couple of years ago (once the guy St Mark’s bookshop had pointed me in the correct direction for the relocated Kim’s Underground).
It all started in Berlin, though, back in 1996, in what I’m pretty sure was the original Hard Wax shop. Ange translated the sign above the turntables for me: ‘only 20 records at one time, please’. That was unbelievable – at that time, if you wanted to hear something before purchasing it in London, you had to tough it out with the surly staff, then stand there while the whole shop listened to and passed judgement on what you were thinking of buying . . .
At the new Hard Wax this summer I found a handful of reggae 7”s I’d had in my notebook for a while, there still seemed to be about 15 turntables for use, and the shop was busy, even on a Monday afternoon. Life doesn’t get much better. It also added a spring in my step to see that Mr Free and Mrs Dead is still going strong in Nollendorfplatz. Two decades ago I picked up a cd of early Smog recordings there; this time I went for a Bonnie Prince Billy 7”, which didn’t quite make the cut this month – next show, maybe . . . (The photo this month is taken from a flea market in East Berlin. Sadly I didn’t quite have the wherewithal, resources or strength to tackle Easy Jet with this beauty.)