Kraftwerk – Computer World: Round 113 – Steve’s Selection

Kraftwerk_-_Computer_WorldI program my home computer. Beam myself into the future“. So the prophets and influencers of all things techno, acid house, electronic music, and Coldplay (!) sing in the synthesised voices on ‘Home Computer’.

It’s 1981, and one year before the release of the ZX Spectrum, my first home computer which I got as a present on my 10th birthday. I was too young then to know about Kraftwerk, and certainly not aware of the potential of computers to infiltrate, underpin, and govern the world and how it works today. Not so for one Florian Schneider (RIP; 7th April 1945 – 21st April 2020) and Ralf Hütter, on this their 8th studio album, and arguably (for me) at the height of their powers. They were predicting the future not just of technology on this album, but shining a light for a whole new form of electronic music. You might argue that had done that already through much of the mid to late 70s, on Autobahn, Trans Europe Express, The Man Machine and Radioactivity, but it’s here that it takes full flight in beautiful electronic gold plated glory.

I came to Kraftwerk through my church. I was brought up in a sometimes strange Christian sect (The Christadelphians). Some members shunned music, and especially anything that might deviate or challenge the faith. There was a member of our church who however revealed to me that he had quite a vast music collection, and he invited me to his house. His son also possessed a rather encyclopaedic knowledge of all the music he owned, and between them they had developed a cataloguing system of vinyl, CDs, tapes, and open reel tapes (they said this was audibly by far the best format – so there you go @sickmouthy). Anyway, to cut a long story short he taped a whole load of albums for me (Can, the Fall, Richard Hell and the Voidoids), including a complete set of Kraftwerk albums. I was smitten, but especially by Computer World. For me the rhythms, the beats, the clarity, timing, all had a purity and such a futuristic sound that it was hard not to fall in love with this rather iconoclastic group of Germans. By this time (around 85/86) I had stopped playing computer games, and had found a new love – music and in particular, record collecting. I bought a copy of Computer World, and Radioactivity (which I later sold and have only just recently replaced).

Computer World begins on the opening title track with a beat to die for and a sublime keyboard sequence that sings – without words – computer world (dee-dee-dah-dee). It’s subtle, but an Ohrwurm (‘earworm’ in German), that keeps coming back, time and time again throughout the album. I think is why, above all else, I love this album. The mere repetition of that sequence of notes….

Pocket calculator is also all electronic joy. The track had such a profound influence on Detroit techno, and subsequently dance and rave music over here in the UK. It was a few years later, after getting into Kraftwerk, that I heard A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’ and felt like it was the same music being beamed back to me from outer space. It’s easy to understate and underestimate how influential Kraftwerk were on black African American audiences, and later the early UK scene by Gerald and the like. But as a clip demonstrates (at the bottom of the page…), ‘Numbers’ had such a huge important influence on the club and dance scene emerging out of Detroit, Chicago, and New York in the mid to late 80s.

The sound of Kraftwerk, because of their influence, can be found amongst the ‘bleeps and bloops’ of countless techno artists. But here on Computer World it also has funk. Kraftwerk were first through the door on this combination, and nobody at their time could replicate their sound, despite its simplicity. Perhaps that is why they are so heavily sampled. The sounds on Computer World are simple, and yet so complex. ‘Numbers’ segueways seamlessly back into the Computer World keyboard sequence to die for. It’s beautiful. ‘Computer Love’ is incredible too, with overlapping melodies and some timeless prophecies of ‘data dates’ to come. It’s no wonder that Bowie loved them, he too taking their cue to predict a computer age – we’ve all seen that clip of him predicting the internet. This album opens the door on that world. On the last track “It’s More Fun to Compute” I swear it says “It’s nearer to compute”, as opposed to “It’s nearer to commute” – and here we are, all joining each other virtually as Covid-19 continues to bear down and restrict our movement, at least for those of us who are privileged enough to be able to work at home and avoid the “unnecessary travel”.

In summary, I simply love this album. It’s certainly one of my favourites of all time. Let’s not get into that ‘top 10 albums that made me’ schtick though, but if we did, it would be in mine! We’ve not covered Kraftwerk before at DRC (I don’t think). For a band that is arguably more influential than the Beatles that seems strange. Paul Morley, who I normally don’t have much time for, contests in a Kraftwerk documentary on the BBC that they are more influential than the Beatles. He does this by dismissing the mop-tops’ musical influence (he asks ‘Who have the Beatles actually influenced? Elton John, ELO, Gary Barlow, and the Spice Girls’). The truth of it is the Beatles stole the sounds of Black African Americans and pretended it was their own. Whereas, he contends, Kraftwerk gave a unique sound back to black African American artists (e.g. Derrick May, Afrika Bambaataa), who adapted it and in turn gave back a whole new genre, and the love of which, for me, will never die. RIP Florian.

Bert Jansch – Bert Jansch: Round 112, Steve’s choice

Claire and BertJansch1965I moved down to sunny Devon, and Exeter, from the cold north nearly 10 years ago. We moved from a small town in the foot of the Derbyshire hills called Glossop, which had, at the time, a thriving music scene, playing hosts to many live acts with a diverse range of styles. Glossop was also only a stones throw away from Manchester, the place of my birth, and with a huge range of live music to choose from. Glossop had its fair share of folk artists pass through its venues. Maybe it’s the Venn of folk music with warm brown beer, woolly sweaters, beards, hiking, and the traveller that makes the space for this genre in such a place as Glossop? Sandwiched right between Sheffield to the East, and Manchester to the West, there may be an element of truth in that. In the absence of big names coming to town (other than Kate Rusby once before she got famous), Glossop held its own with the underground scene of ‘one man and his guitar’ type events. Now to Exeter…

I’m not sure what it is about the South West, but the Venn here is between holiday resorts and tribute acts. The further you head down the ‘nose’ of the SW, the less original the act…but that does beg the question about what constitutes originality anyway?

Exeter has a veritable venue in the Pheonix Art Centre, where I have seen amongst others, British Sea Power, Johnny Marr (more later…), Lambchop, and Half Man Half Biscuit. But, to see big names on a regular basis is again quite rare. Leading up to us moving down here I had started to furrow the back catalogue of folk, getting into the likes of John Martyn. With a severe lack of big name artists to see down here Claire and I decided to find a local folk club – we came across Topsham Folk Club. Established for 40 years, this folk club has been home over the years to many a ‘big name’. Topsham, is again a place for the traveller as it is a former port and trading post. We happened upon tickets for Martin Carthy, who for most aficionados would be considered folk royalty. He was great! A few weeks after that gig we saw an advert for Nick Harper, son of Roy Harper but an acclaimed folkie in his own right. Along to the gig we went – at the Pheonix in Exeter. His stage was set out as the living room in his childhood home, and as the gig started he began to explain how his life, from an early age, had been enriched by the presence of various folk legends brought to his home by his father. His early influences and acquaintances included Martin Carthy, John Renbourn, Davey Graham, and most importantly the late, great, Bert Jansch. These were the people that influenced him, and some of whom taught him his guitar style.

Jansch is revered in folk circles, and a major influence on many artists (more later). Born in Scotland, he adopted a style that drew not just on the traditional folk of his homeland, but blended jazz and blues rhythms from the deep American south. Jansch is considered to be one of the most incredible and accomplished guitarists of his generation. Nick Harper said at one point during the gig that he was going to attempt to play a notoriously difficult Jansch number, the last track on his eponymous debut ‘Bert Jansch’, a track called ‘Angie’. Having tried a few times to get it right he finally played it through note perfect. My mouth was wide open. Angie’s reeling intricate fingerpicking is beyond belief. To hear this being played live was an incredible treat. Jansch had died a few years before I had bothered to even get into him. ‘Bert Jansch’, the album, has been a very recent addition to my collection, and the only record I own by him. So, simply for the experience of hearing it live, I thought it was about time to give this record an airing at Record club. It turned out that we were all quite unaware of Jansch’s wider work. Nor were we aware of the synchronicity of my choice with the other independent choice for the night from Tom (more later…).

Bert Jansch’s debut solo album is pure stripped back folk. Just him and his guitar, slurred lyrics, and no doubt a few refreshers to help him get through (Jansch famously boozed his way through the 60s, 70s, 80s, only to give up in the late 90s). Jansch later founded the group Pentangle, where he would be joined by a female vocalist and other musicians. His earlier recordings are however regarded as his best. Many of the tracks on this, his debut album, are instrumentals. Indeed ‘Angie’ is an instrumental. While other tracks sound quite Dylan-esque in vocal, the guitar playing is much richer than Dylan. You hear him beat the side of the instrument in a blues style that is reminiscent of Big Bill Broonzy and other early blues artists. One of the standout tracks, ‘Needle of Death’, is an anti-drugs song about the death of one of his close friends to a heroin overdose. This, released in 1965, would have contrasted wildly from other more ‘lets experiment with substances’ type songs of the era. It’s thought that this song is the inspiration for Neil Young’s ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ on Harvest. The opening track, ‘Strolling Down the Highway’, was later covered by Nick Drake – who was also influenced by Jansch. You can hear quite clearly the influences that tracks on this album had on later music, not just folk, but also rock, jazz and the slide into Van Morrison’s pastiche on Astral Weeks. For instance, it is well-known that Jimmy Page stole ‘Blackwaterslide’ (from Jansch’s 3rd album) and made ‘Black Mountain Side’ on Led Zeppelin’s debut – I never got along with Zep, despite trying really hard to like them in my youth. They always seemed quite derivative to me. Jimmy Page also nicked many of the picking styles of Jansch, and rocked them up, much to the chagrin of Bert in later life. Still, Jansch eschewed the high-life, and lived most of his time with a no-fixed-abode approach to the world. For him it wasn’t about the money…

Jansch’s debut is rootsy, yet complex. The rhythms and twists and turns each song takes draws you in. ‘Casbah’ contains eastern influences. Jansch famously travelled to Marrakesh and escaped back to London after a bout of dysentery. There he learned different playing styles which had a huge influence on him. He was tutored in guitar by Davey Graham (who originally recorded ‘Angie’, or Anji, I think – or a version of it). Graham was arguably the first person to bring Eastern influences into folk music, long before the Beatles ‘did it’ with rock & roll and claimed it as their own (hear him on this early clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2-j89MnNCw which shows the link between oriental music and Irish folk – it all comes from roots…). This is the trouble with folk, it is accessible and nobody claims a right to own the music. It is passed on and down to the next generation, reinterpreted. This was why ‘Angie’, when played by Harper that night in Exeter, was so poignant to me. It dawned on me in that moment that this song, so fiendishly difficult to play, may never be heard live again unless people take the time to learn it and reinterpret it. Here I was, privileged to hear it, being passed on to another generation. Who will play these songs when they are gone forever? Nick Harper reckoned there were very few people who could actually play it, and nobody like Bert Jansch. So fragile is the legacy of folk, and yet its influence can be traced forwards to other music. Hearing it is like going on a journey. I often think that folk comes out from the ground, and the earth. It has a basic quality that you can trace through other styles and genres.

As pointed out on the night by Nick (not Harper, but DRC’s @sickmouthy), influence is a difficult thing when it comes to music. Nick said you don’t have to sound like the original to claim influence. Johnny Marr is a big fan of Jansch, yet you might struggle to hear him in the Smiths, apart from maybe those minor chords. Throughout ‘Bert Jansch’ the minor chords bring a solemnity to the feel of the songs. Jansch was apparently more into the ‘feel of songs’ than the music. Now, I love a minor chord. It’s that feeling of regret that they fill you with, or maybe they pluck the chords of my own regrets in life? I am told that minor chords in Western music are an influence from the East (I heard this on a Radio 4 documentary once). Perhaps it’s those Eastern influences, again feeding into Jansch’s music, that we are hearing here.

So, to the other choice of the night (@tomrainbow brought along ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ by Pavement). I won’t steal Tom’s thunder too much but listening to the slightly off-kilter and bending the guitar to fit the lyrics style of Stephen Malkmus made me wonder if there was the faintest glimmer of a connectivity between the two artists? Low and behold, after a few Google searches following DRC I found that Bert Jansch is Malkmus’ favourite guitarist of all time, and he’s been massively influenced by him! I also found that Jansch plays guitar on a Babyshambles track (‘Lost Art of Murder’) on their album Shotters Nation, which for me is probably the best thing that Pete Doherty has ever done (his performance of it, without Jansch, on Jonathan Ross’ show is perhaps one of my most favourite live moments https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ct6jWKqJ3y0). I certainly think all that off-kilter stuff that Doherty attempts with The Libertines is right down the barrel of Pavement…and so the wheel turns. What is original anyway? Pavement have been accused of their own level of plagiarism – a tribute act to the Fall? Does all music pay homage ultimately to a roots music, displayed here perfectly by a stripped back folksy-bluesy-jazz infused Jansch? Is Jansch just a gateway from rootsy folk, blues and jazz to modern rock and popular music of today? Perhaps a step too far, but he was certainly at that juxtaposition in time between roots and more developed styles of the late 60s, early 70s. In that respect ‘Bert Jansch’ is a pivotal album, sitting in the middle of two worlds, the old and the new.

So, to Bert Jansch, where to go with him? I’ve got a long back catalogue to now furrow, and with so many lines of influence who knows where it will take me. ‘Bert Jansch’ is a great record, and is certainly a classic. Right after record club I went and bought a copy of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and Jansch’s second album ‘It Don’t Bother Me’. I’ll be listening harder now to find those connections. Listening harder to find the original sounds and follow them through to the present day. I’ll also have to get along to see Harper again if I want to hear that Angie again.

Tom listened: Folk is such a tricky genre for me and anything that evokes the ol’ finger in the ear warbling that, for me, is synonymous of traditional English folk music gets me running…in the opposite direction to where the sound is coming from! Yet I love Nick Drake’s folky take on arcadian England, there’s something deeply honest and vulnerable about his music that really draws me in, so close that its as if his hushed tones are whispering to me and me only.

When I think of other examples of folk inflected music from these shores that have found their way into my collection, it tends to be by artists of Celtic origin; Gorky’s and Cate Le Bon from Wales, Alasdair Roberts, John Martyn, James Yorkston from Scotland. I tend to like the quirkiness of the former and the pithiness of the latter and have avoided the Pentangle axis with relative ease and not much sense of missing out over the years.

I had been aware of Bert Jansch for much of my adult life, yet had never knowingly listened to him until last week. I guess I assumed that as he was around in the 60s his music would be neither pithy or quirky enough to fulfil my alt-folk needs; after all how likely was it that it would sound like There is No One What Will Take Care of You or A River is Too Much to Love? Well…funnily enough it wasn’t a million miles away from either and I was immediately surprised at how fresh, contemporary and nontraditional (to my untrained ears and ignorant mind) this felt. A dark record (I like it this way) I was reminded of Robbie Basho at times, Nick Drake at others but most of all this just felt like an inspired record from a singular artist who was simply getting the stuff from deep inside him out there.

And at no point did it sound like Pavement!

Home Again – Michael Kiwanuka: Round 110, Steve’s choice

kiwanukaIt was almost a year since we last met, although I was not present that night, back then in 2019. So much has happened recently; Nick’s son’s cancer diagnosis (see last post) and now also the threat of COVID-19. Given the timings of the meeting, mid pandemic and lockdown in the UK, we met electronically. Having grappled the tech, we agreed that a possible theme may be music that spoke of the ‘sign of the times’. I picked this album simply because one of the tracks, ‘I’m Getting Ready’, had made me cry while leaving the pharmacy on the night that Boris Johnson had announced that we were closing pubs, restaurants, and curbing a large number of freedoms that we take for granted. Not that I am advocating that we don’t adhere to these new restrictions. I was more driven to tears because  we had now reached a point in history, within my lifetime, within the early lifetime of my children, where we can’t say with certainty what is going to happen in the world. Nor can we say what the world will look like in the future, certainly not the same as it was before this crisis, and certainly never the same again. What I can say, and what I did say to one of my kids was that I’ve never had to live through anything like this before. I didn’t have to face this as a child. With all these fears, mainly for them, running round my head and revolving into a maelstrom of doubt these words came through the loudspeakers in my car:

“Oh my
I didn’t know how hard it would be
Oh my
I didn’t know how hard it would be

But if I hold on tight, is it true?
Would You take care of all that I do?

Oh Lord, I’m getting ready to believe”

At that moment, coming out of the pharmacy, getting in my car, and hearing a song of hope “Then we’ll be waving hands singing freely. Singing standing tall it’s now coming easy” juxtaposed with the lines “I didn’t know how hard it would be” just broke me. Can we really get ready now to believe? It’s the hope that kills you after all isn’t it?

Michael Kiwanuka, was born and raised in Muswell Hill in London, and is the son of Ugandan parents. He appears, on his debut (released in 2012), to have drawn in influences from the British folk scene (Nick Drake, John Martyn) as well as the often cited Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack, Marvin Gaye etc. While his most recent release – last year’s Kiwanuka – draws on themes of Pan-Africanism, there is a distinctly, almost pastoral ‘folksy’ feeling to this album. It is not lyrically sophisticated, but in these times of trouble I feel platitudes and simple sentiments have a strong role to play. Musically, combined with incredible guitar playing, this album is definitely more sophisticated than one might initially think – at least that’s what I think reviewers failed to see when this album was first released (tepid reviews to say the least). But albums can grow in stature, and become more apposite as time goes by.

The album begins with “Tell Me a Tale”. It’s all too easy to reference songs against something horrific happening in your life. I can only remember all too vividly how every song spoke to my heartache when I was going through separation and divorce nearly 20 years ago. Now, with COVID-19, everything, even this review, is referenced against the unfolding crisis. It’s hard to turn a corner and not be faced with it. Although tragedy has not yet hit my nearest and dearest I feel like I’m awaking under a sword of Damocles. Only in my dreams am I released….

“Show me some strength that I can use
Give me a sound that I won’t refuse
Tell me a story that I can read
Tell me a story that I can believe.”

Need I (or he) say more? What to believe in the present post-truth times? Has Coronavirus forced truth, or does it just expose the lies of the world we live in? I am beginning to reach my limit, physically and mentally, to the volume of information and statistics that we are being constantly bombarded with. I long for stories that take me away from all of this, for something I can truly believe in to give me strength to cope with what is happening. So, Michael sings well within my experience right now. Perhaps it is that simplicity of the lyrics that manages to form a panacea of experience around my heart. Comforting me in times of trouble.

We only played half the album, but the stand-out track is the title track “Home Again”. Here Kiwanuka is stripped back, mainly just him and a guitar. If we have to deal with the present, we have to look to the past

“So I close my eyes
Look behind
Moving on, moving on”

Coping with life is never easy, especially if you’ve had to deal with major difficulties. I never really write about my son’s autism, mainly because I find it too hard to do that. Even to talk about it is sometimes difficult, but suffice to say that it has knocked our family for six. It’s part of our lives right now, but you can’t help wanting to look behind, turn back the clock on his life – to give him a better chance. Yet my wife and I know that all we can do is affect the future in the present time by helping him deal with the world and how it presents itself to him. In other words to move on. What is so unsettling about the coronavirus is that we seem so powerless, even for those in power, to stop its spread, to prevent the suffering in the present time. Even in the moment of our lives all we can do is sit and wait for it all to unfold….

The last track we played on the album was “Bones”, which has all the hallmarks of a 1950s/60s black spiritual. When I first heard it conjured images of New Orleans for me. As a frequent professional visitor to the ‘Big Easy’ I am deeply saddened to hear that the very highest rates of infection are now being reported from there. That city has had its fair share of suffering. The massacre of 1866 of black republicans by white democrats, the depression, Hurricane Katrina… yet, out of all of that suffering comes great hope. If you go there you sense it, hear it in the music and the lived in faces of its residents. Funerals begin solemnly marching down the street, but end with joyful processions being led by the chorus “Oh when the Saints, go marching in”. Often from the point of most oppression, from the place of most suffering, can come the songs of greatest hope. We need spirituals, Gospels, folk, common musical languages of love and hope right now in this crisis. What doesn’t divide us joins us together in harmony. This album goes some way to do that with a simple warmth expressed in deep humanity.

Robert Wyatt – Nothing Can Stop Us: Round 108 – Steve’s Choice

My choice this week is in a compilation album. Whether that break the rules of Record Club or not I don’t know. Rules are not something that Mr Wyatt would pay much attention to. I see Robert as as the alternative to the alternative, having no frame of reference nor yardstick against which he can be measured. From his very first solo outing ‘ The End of An Ear’ he has sought to define his own train of thought. Even here, as he interprets a range of different covers of well-known artists, he does it in a way that is uncharacteristic even of himself, and yet with deference to the originals.

Until recently I only owned two Wyatt albums – ‘Ruth is Stranger Than Richard’ and ‘Rock Bottom’ – both of which I love dearly. I also have a connection to the artist (standing joke in DRC) in that I’m a good friend and former work colleague of his nephew. Recently his nephew posted some pictures of a family wedding on social media, and sure enough there was a picture of Uncle Robert. He had a flowing white beard, looking wizard-like with eyes glowing bright as one with far too much creativity and light to be human. Statuesque. Still. It is perhaps this stillness and unique style that has, down the years, made Robert Wyatt stand out as a lighthouse of British talent. Home grown eclecticism at its best. At least that’s how I see it. Other’s in our group may beg to differ.

‘Nothing Can Stop Us’ compiles covers and reworkings of recordings made (B-sides and others) from the 1970s and early 80s. The only original and new recording is the first track ‘Born Again Cretin’ which, with it’s characteristic Wyatt vocal warbles and baby-like ‘goo-goo’ sounds announces he’s back after almost a 10 year hiatus (released in 1982 this was the first recording since 1975) into a new world. Punk has almost dispatched itself. Disco done and Wyatt is here to sing to the world at a time when the UK was once again sadly aiming to recreate its imperialist past. This album spawned the single ‘Shipbuilding’, an anti-Falklands war song, lamenting the decline of the shipbuilding industry and the boys instead fighting an unjust war. This song does not feature on the album, but another Ivor Cutler number ‘Grass’ (originally ‘Go Sit Upon the Grass’ and recorded in 1975). It’s a slightly disturbing song, and Wyatt manages to capture the sublime violence beautifully

“Go and sit upon the grass
And I shall come and sit beside you
Go and sit upon the grass
And I shall come and sit beside you

And do not mind if I thump you when I’m talking to you
Do not mind if I thump you when I’m talking to you
I’ve something important to say

Other more mainstream covers are well-executed. Chic’s ‘At Last I am Free’ reveals the pathos of Nile Rogers’ original, giving it an almost reinvigorated political edge. The line “I can hardly see in front of me” evokes blinding tears of joy. Maybe because this track follows ‘Born Again Cretin’, which echoes the heartless views of apartheid South Africa, and the Thatcherite UK government’s stance on Mandela

“So let Mandela rot in prison
Someone should tell him how lucky he is

that we may even imagine the leader himself being released from chains, blinking through his tears into the light? In 1982 this was a bold and brave album indeed. On ‘Strange Fruit’ his tender vocal and gentle piano pay homage to the Billie Holliday original, but in a way that still capture the haunting images of black people hanging in the summer trees. Unnerving and yet altogether a reminder of terrible times and continued racial prejudice.

Other fights for freedom are raised to the podium. ‘Caimanera/Guantanamera’ is a Cuban song of independence – with Caimanera’s proximity to Guantanamo Bay we can all sing along to this one. My kids do! ‘Stalin wasn’t Stallin’ is a great Horrible Histories-esque folk compaction of 20th Century conflict

“Stalin wasn’t stallin’
When he told the beast of Berlin
That they’d never rest contented
Till they had driven him from the land
So he called the Yanks and English
And proceeded to extinguish
The Führer and its vermin
This is how it all began

Wyatt, so generous that he is, even allows the use of his vinyl space to give a song over to another other artists, without his contribution. At the end of the album we are treated to a rendition of ‘Trade Union’ originally penned by Abdus Salique, and sung here in traditional Bangladeshi style. The song is a call to arms for Bangladeshi workers who were suffering appalling treatment in East London factories in the late 1970s. Wyatt is not averse to the causes of his day, and his rendition of ‘ Red Flag’ is not, as some have assumed, an allegiance to the Labour Party, but true to the original a socialist call for unity that has been sung by Irish workers, South African miners and oppressed radical working classes since the 19th century.

So, in these febrile times, when the ruling classes seek to divide and conquer, raise your first, stand firm and still. This album is a true iron fist in a velvet glove, true in its word today as it was then. Aye comrade.

Maisha– There is a Place: Round 107 – Steve’s Choice

It’s a hard task to choose an album of the year when, if like me, you tend to associate certain albums with different seasons. Playing something that reminds me of zipping along country lanes in the long hot summer we had (such as Rolling Blackouts, Snail Mail…) hardly seems congruous with a damp cold foggy night in the weeks running up to Christmas. So, I chose some jazz. But not any old jazz. This is the debut outing by Maisha, a six piece jazz collective helped initially by the very influential organisation Tomorrow’s Warrior’s and their founders Janine Irons and Gary Crosby. Now only a few weeks before I came to DRC on that cold foggy night I was with both these good people at the 70th Anniversary of the formation of the University of the West Indies in London. Talking to them I learned about their incredible influence on an emerging new jazz scene from London, including other new talents that have blossomed this year, such as Ezra Collective (I will bring their new LP along soon).

It’s hard to write a review of a jazz record without sounding pretentious or inviting sneers of derision aimed at comparing you to the character in the Fast Show (‘nice’). I’ve liked jazz most of my adult life, but it’s always been more attuned to the traditional sounds of Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Just recently I ventured out to more experimental lands via The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s ‘Les Stances a Sophie’ and some of Robert Wyatt’s more eclectic recordings (such as his debut solo ‘End of an Ear’). After Maisha I’ll not look back, or more probably I will, to seek out its roots and influences. For theirs is a tradition of its own, but splitting into many roads and narrow lanes of various genres.

The album itself is beautiful. As the cover photo suggests a paradise, so the music journeys into a rich orchestral landscape (see I can do pretentious….). The incredible depth of sound that emanates from just six players is astonishing, drawing in hip-hop, afrobeat and funk. Members of the DRC, with more musical knowledge than I, found it hard to place in time. The frenetic lead single ‘Osiris’ opens the album. More symphonic saxophony of ‘Eaglehurst/The Place’ and ethereal piano-musings of closer ‘There Is A Place’ suggest a more contemplative mood. Overall the album has a richness of jazz folk (those of you who know Stewart Lee well can snigger now). Reworked jazz standards played with a distinctively urban and current sound. See it is possible to combine the two, and Maisha pay homage to their roots, but not too much deference to overshadow their craft.

Rob lent me Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey in Satchidananda’ as a consequence of my choice for the night. Her album combined jazz with her interest in Hinduism – she became a disciple of the guru Satchidananda Saraswati. This intersection was apposite since my other track for the night was Poly Styrene’s ‘Code Pink Dub’ from her final album Generation Indigo – she became a Hare Krishna devotee for much of her later adult life. In a time when the idea of cultural appropriation is questioned we do well to remember that with respect (and respect is critical) this is how new forms of music develop. Styrene moved to dub reggae roots on her album, but on her earlier solo album she incorporated folk influences. Maisha continue this approach, drawing in influences that surely reflect the multiculturalism of London. So a jazz-folk genre is born.

Tomorrow’s Warrior’s vision is

We believe in a world where opportunities for participation, ownership and leadership in music and the arts are available to all.

Now, who could argue with that as a positive call for respectful appropriation and mixing of styles. Long may they be supported in this venture.

Julian Cope – Fried: Round 105, Steve’s choice

Julian CopR-372058-1380454394-9742.jpege turns 60 on 21st October 2017. The reaching of a milestone, you might say, along the leyline of life for the Archdrude, Krautrock, Japrock psychedelic traveller, rock-pop star and general mad dude. Mr Cope has been many things to many different people. I covered his time in the Teardrop Explodes at previous meeting, chronicling his descent into madness and general chaos. All the pre-solo shenanigans are detailed in his autobiography – Head On. Post-Tears breakup was hard on Julian. Dumped by most of whom he thought were friends, and exiled to his childhood home of Tamworth having been resident both in Liverpool and London, he finds himself in an artistic moment of enforced freedom. ‘Fried’ was his second solo album, having been preceded by ‘World Shut Your Mouth’ (which doesn’t contain the song of that name itself – that appears on St Julian). On ‘World…’ he retains much of the febrile high-tempo sounds found on Kilimanjaro. When that failed to stick, he went into the studio and recorded ‘Fried’. Much under the influence and striking a chord with his visions of himself within a mythological England the tracks on this album have a folksy quality about them, not a million miles from Syd Barrett’s solo ventures. You can draw a line from Barrett, through ‘Fried’ to Blur. On ‘Reynard the Fox’ he embodies himself (perhaps a reference to his shamanic spirit animal) in the folk character of a wise anthropomorphic animal who is outwitting his enemies. Being caught eventually he cuts his stomach open and “spills his guts out onto the stage”, again referring to an actual event in JC’s live performance where he did just that. The music itself is frenzied and despite its gory lyrics it’s a favourite of my children’s! ‘Bill Drummond Said’ is also a list of things that, well Mr Drummond is alleged to have said e.g. “If I pray enough my Christmas tree will die”. So outlandish are these sayings that it’s quite possible that they’re made up. But then it’s not clear that he couldn’t have said them, and so the legend goes. It’s a jolly little ditty, and Bill followed it up a few years later with a folk song riposte entitled “Julian Cope is Dead”.

On ‘Fried’ Julian is not scared of being completely experimental. Later on he would carve out his rock star persona, and have hits with “World Shut Your Mouth” and “Try Try Try”. So, this album is odd in that it diverts from both the successful pop of Teardrops, and his later more accessible work, and hints at an altogether artistically adventurous JC. Tracks from this album still survive as live favourites, such as ” Sunspots” and “Reynard the Fox”. His march into full on shamanic Druidry is attempted here in a less mature way on “O King of Chaos”. Religious ramblings abound on “Holy Love”

“Who’s that rolling in the hay
The baby Jesus or the cavalry?”

He deals with betrayal by his friends and the dropping of him by the record label (he was dropped again after this album) on ‘Laughing Boy’

“Oh no, don’t cast me out of here
Oh no, don’t cast me out of here
Oh no, don’t cast me out, I said “No”
I’ve got no place to go.”

and with the very fact that having success has changed him from the person he was, so much that he can’t go back (on ‘Me Singing’)

“I try my hand at work
Oh, work seems to be for an earlier person”

Musically the album is truly solo, with Cope often playing his own instruments. So, it is quite simplistic in composition, but nevertheless there’s plenty nice tunes here. Lyrically there’s a heavy dosage of pathos, emotion and introspection to take you into the inner workings of his mind. I find its autobiographical and yet legend-spinning approach to be quite refreshing and honest. It was certainly not well-received at the time, hardly selling any copies. Polydor dropped him after this, and perhaps the necessity of having to work to make ends meet he diverts from this style to something much more accessible. People focus too much on the front cover of this album, and are perhaps put-off from listening to it, thinking this is perhaps just the ramblings of a mad-man who got under a turtle shell on a rubbish mound. Much like Mr Cope and his very varied 60-year old CV, it’s much much more than that….He’s a legend, and dare I say it an English treasure. At 60 he ought to be honoured with more than just a free bus pass. Happy Birthday Mr Cope!

Rob listened: I have great affection for Julian Cope. Back in the mid to late 80s when I was exploring the idea of being an ‘alternative’, Saint Julian was one of the first dozen or so albums I really got to grips with. I had it on cassette. I really liked it, but never quite felt as if I connected properly with it. I used to see ‘Fried’ and ‘World Shut Your Mouth’ kicking about on vinyl, but although I did go heavily for ‘Peggy Suicide’ and ‘Jehovakill’ (via ‘My Nation Underground’ which was easily ignored), I never went backwards. Hearing ‘Fried’ now for the first time I found it a little difficult to get to grips with. I felt it needed a close listen and, ideally, as deep an immersion in Cope lore as Steve has. Still, lots of surprising sounds and words, all quite a marked contrast with the album that would follow it, and clearly the work of a national treasure in the making.

Poly Styrene – Translucence: Round 103 – Steve’s Selection

R-871344-1167646732.jpegSometimes albums surprise you in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily describe as good or bad, but make you want to know more about the artist. So it was with this selection of mine. I was drawn to it through a short interview in the Guardian by Neneh Cherry. She of course has some links to the post-punk scene of her own through her former group Rip, Rig and Panic. This band also featured one Andrea Oliver – the mother of Miquita Oliver, the former host of  Pop World…ok, too far down that branch of the family tree now. But, somehow Poly Styrene was intertwined with her life enough to make her also want to know more about her. A crowd-funded film is being produced about Poly, which is due out next year. But just how this strangely iconic woman burst onto the punk scene, and beyond into critically acclaimed obscurity via a Buddhist community is enough to intrigue. Neneh mentioned this album in her interview, which at the time confounded and confused the post-punk scene, preferring instead to draw more heavily on jazz- infused folk. It really is not what you would expect had you only listened to the shouty in your face X-ray Spex (whom I also love). What you have to understand though is before Poly Styrene emerged onto the punk scene, she spent some time floating around the mid-1970s hippy festival scene (from about the age of 15 till her 17th birthday I believe). This album takes her back there and it is as delightful and beguiling as the front cover – with only the eyes present behind the headdress.

The first track, ‘Dreaming’ is immediately softer than its predecessors, with reggae-style drum rolls, and a drifting flute floating across the chorus (“I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming of you’). Her voice is lighter, less in your face, and she manages to reach vocal levels not achieved on the punkier songs on Germ Free Adolescents (X-Ray Spex’s only album). Straight away, a surprise, and in a nice way…’Toytown’ is in a similar vein. Trading raging guitars and roaring sax for light keyboard and reggae beats. The similarities with early Blondie are there. Later tracks with jazzier tones pre-date Everything But The Girl. The change in tempo displayed on ‘Bicycle Song’ is subtle and sophisticated, and the overlaid sound effects have a touch of the playful Barrett-esque psychedelia. ‘Translucence’ has a beautiful flute backing that make you feel like your gliding through a 1970s hippy folk festival waiting to catch the end of Pentangle’s set.

Poly Styrene went into hiding after this album. Her next ‘Generation Indigo’ was released when she knew she was dying from cancer. I can’t wait to hear her again in the crowd funded documentary film out next year. I bought a very fine mug (polystyrene cup?) designed by her daughter to help fund the project to pay tribute to this fascinating, perhaps underrated and secretive figure in UK music.