Monday, April 30, 2007

Making All Of My Rhymes With No Teeth Marks

Steady B - Just Call Us Def (Radio Mix)
Steady B - Fly Shanté (Radio Mix)
Steady B feat. Roxanne Shanté - Fly Shanté (Def Mix)

I haven’t posted any old school hip hop for a while, so tonight I’m sticking up a few tracks from one of my favourite 12”’s of the golden mid-80s period. I’ve already recounted my record buying experiences as a teenager here, and this was one of my many purchases from Groove Records, made when I was about 12-years-old. Steady B was just 16 when he recorded the 12”, ‘Just Call Us Def’ / ‘Fly Shanté’ for Lawrence and Ann Goodman’s fantastic Pop Art label. It was a prodigious debut for the teenage rapper, who was one of the first wave of Philadelphia-area MCs (along with Schoolly D and the Fresh Prince) to gain notoriety during this era. Steady B aka Warren McGlone had a vocal talent and range that made him sound much older than he actually was, learning his trade - as the majority of rappers at this time did - through freestyling and battling rival crews. With his trademark chunky, square glasses, he always reminded me of an older, more streetwise version of Doc from the Red Hand Gang!

Produced by Lawrence ‘LG the Teacher’ Goodman himself, the A-side, ‘Just Call Us Def’ is a barnstormer, and doesn’t bother with any trickery or complexities to make its point. It follows a basic pattern – over a thunderous 808 drum track and precise yet agricultural scratching from Grand Dragon KD, Steady B unleashes his skilled wordplay, with non-stop bragging about his talents, and some choice lines about his DJ, including these -

“The only way you can beat him is if you cut off his hands,
But he’s so versatile, there’s little you know,
If you cut off his hand, he’ll use his elbow”

It’s all fairly rudimentary, but like punk before it, it is this raw simplicity that makes it such an exhilarating listen. Beats + rhymes + scratches = perfection.

The flip side is the real treat, as Steady raps the praises of his Pop Art label mate and star of the Roxanne Wars, Roxanne Shanté. ‘Fly Shanté’ is an unusually sensitive treatment (despite the hardcore sound), avoiding the usual derogatory commentary that male rappers took towards females, and instead documenting Steady B’s fruitless quest to woo the object of his affections. He sounds every inch the frustrated teenager, out of his depth and unsure of how he can get her to notice him and this was a song I related to at that time, as the whole boy/girl dynamic started to become of real interest to me. I don’t suppose Steady would have dared to dis Shanté, seeing as she was pretty much the Queen of Hip Hop at this point, but it is still sweet to listen to his raps, as he pines for her attention. Ultimately, there is a kiss-off that leaves Steady in the ascendancy, but what did you expect? Again, the beats are pounding, and KD’s grinding heave-ho scratching and cut-ups of Shanté’s name are unrelenting. I’ve also posted the ‘Def Mix’, as Shanté herself makes a brief cameo. The drums take centre stage here, so if you like heavy as fuck 808 drums, you’ll love this version. I do.

After such a promising start to his career, it’s a real shame that the Steady B story has such a sad ending. Despite enjoying some success during a patchy five-album career that spanned a decade, he is currently serving a life sentence for his part in the botched robbery that resulted in the death of Lauretha Vaird, the first female Philadelphia Police officer to be killed in the line of duty. Fellow Philly rapper Cool C, who actually pulled the trigger (McGlone was driving the getaway car), was sentenced to death by lethal injection, but was recently granted a stay of execution.

Search eBay for Steady B - the classic early Pop Art 12's sometimes come up if you're patient.
Steady B discography at Discogs
Steady B at Wikipedia
The official Steady B My Space page
Document detailing the court case against Warren McGlone here


Friday, April 27, 2007

Cock Rock

Azalea City Penis Club - Still Dead After All These Years

I’m still trying to work out whether Azalea City Penis Club is one of the best band names I’ve ever come across, or one of the worst. It’s lifted from the guitarist John Fahey’s autobiography, ‘How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life’, and was the name of Fahey’s teenage gang. While I’m still unsure about their chosen moniker, the one thing of which I am certain is that I am a big fan of the deeply deranged racket they have served up on their debut album ‘The Coffin Years’. Azalea City Penis Club is the work of the Bristolian trio of Dave Collingwood, formerly of post-rockers Immense (one of my favourite bands and long overdue an appraisal on this blog) and now of Gravenhurst on drums, and guitarists Simon Grant (training to be a doctor at Manchester University) and Robin Allender (also of Gravenhurst). The trio came together in the summer of 2006 to write and record the album, which has been engineered by Tony Goodfellow, another Bristolian, infamous for his work with the noise institution Geisha.

‘The Coffin Years’ is an album that suffers from multiple personality disorder, unsure as to what exactly it is that it wants to be, but delighting in the schizophrenic carnage that unfolds across the 8 tracks as it tries to work it out. Take ‘Coconut Calypso’, a rollicking 10-minute ride that sounds like Slint doing stoner rock. It works on the quiet / loud dynamic or rather, lurches between lovingly stroking your hair and whispering sweetly in your ear, and attacking you with a nail-spiked chair leg, ending on a pounding, tribal drum solo from the exceptional Collingwood. ‘Still Dead After All These Years’ is a similar beast, but without any of the niceties, just rammed full of monolithic metal riffs that fellow Bristolian psychedelic noiseniks’ The Heads would be proud of. The schizophrenic nature of ‘The Coffin Years’ is most apparent on the vocal songs like ‘Bridges’, which starts out as bewitching wyrd-folk, before freaking out, Mr Hyde-style, into Black Sabbath rawk, complete with an evil, mutated vocal. Another highlight is ‘Pictures’, which morphs from C86 jangle and twee Belle and Sebastian vocals, into more jagged, distorted riffing. The band wrote the album as a reaction against the serious nature of the majority of experimental guitar music, and I think they have succeeded in their mission. Inevitably, it’s all rather self-indulgent, but I’m happy to let them off, in exchange for the sheer adrenaline rush and visceral thrills offered by the music they’ve created.

Azalea City Penis Club have announced that this will be their one and only album, a statement which I hope is hyperbole as I could easily consume another bowl or two of this demented noise-metal-kraut-prog-rock. Having said that, I guess the beauty of this release is that this isn't a band laying down a statement for the rest of their career - they're just having a laugh and making whatever noise they feel like making. It's makes for a liberating listening experience.

'The Coffin Years' is released by Dreamboat Records as a digital-only release, and can be purchased from from May 21st 2007
‘The Coffin Years’ page on Dreamboat Records, where two further album tracks, 'Pictures' and ‘Sign Language’, are available to download for free!
Azalea City Penis Club at My Space
Official ACPC website
Gravenhurst website
Dave Collingwood at My Space
Simon Grant at My Space
Robin Allender at My Space
Buy John Fahey’s ‘How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life’ from Boomkat


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Playground For Open Minds

Photo © Steve Gullick

Mogwai - Angels Versus Aliens
Mogwai - Summer (Priority Version)

Sometimes I shut my eyes and pretend to be somewhere else. I usually end up nowhere in the middle of space, surrounded only by distant stars and a silent blackness. It is quiet there and I like that. There is no interfering, interrupting outside noise at all. Just me. Just the music I have in my head. No other band puts me in that place better than Mogwai.

Over a decade ago Mogwai dragged me out of my Britpop stupor and made me realise there was more to music and guitars than what the Radio 1 Evening Session told me there was. ‘Ten Rapid’, a collection of Mogwai’s early material, was like someone cutting open my head and putting new ideas and thoughts into it. My mind had been opened.

“What moves you about Mogwai is the sense of discovering that you share with the band, the feeling that they have the chops and the curiosity, the ability and will to try anything and take you along with them each wide-eyed step of the way. A playground for open minds everywhere.” Neil Kulkarni, Melody Maker, May 10 1997.

Released the year I, somewhat belatedly and half-heartedly, left home to go to university, ‘Mogwai Young Team’ was a record that changed my life. I spent many late nights lying on my bed wondering what I had done, what I was doing and what I was going to do, just staring up at the ceiling, (which the previous occupant had kindly left several glow-in-the-dark stars glued to) just listening to that album with my headphones on. ‘Young Team’ didn’t answer any of my questions, but it was the soundtrack to them. Quiet enough to drift off to sleep too, and then loud enough to keep you awake with your thoughts until the sun came up. The epic, swirling, thunderous ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ is one fine ending to an album and leaves you in no doubt that you have been on a journey. With few words, it is an album that lets the music do the talking. ‘Young Team’ is a record that means a lot to many different people. Kele Okereke from Bloc Party describes how influential it was for him in this month’s Mojo magazine.

Subsequent Mogwai albums, such as last year’s excellent ‘Mr Beast’ and the ‘Zidane’ Soundtrack, have continued to interest and inspire me like little else can claim to have done continuously over the last ten years. Titles such as ‘No Education = No Future (Fuck The Curfew)’ EP mean that Mogwai don’t need to have a lyrical wordsmith in order to make a statement. Still today, nobody else sounds quite like Mogwai. Uniqueness in a modern-day world of reproduction and fakery is quite an exceptional achievement. All bands have influences, and I do enjoy listening to those bands that have either directly or indirectly, influenced Mogwai’s sound, but when I first heard Mogwai, I had not heard anything like it before, and not much I have heard since has had quite the same impact on me.

Mogwai play Somerset House in London on July 12. With no roof to raise, expect the sky to look vulnerable. I’ll be there in body, my mind listening from the stars.

Buy Mogwai from Norman Records
Official Mogwai website
Excellent Mogwai fansite
Mogwai at My Space
Buy Mogwai tickets for the Somerset House show here


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Finger Pluckin' Wonder

Wooden Spoon - Dead Shrimp

After the recent vogue for albums of solo piano music by the likes of Gonzales and Goldmund, it's refreshing to hear an album where the sole instrument is a reverentially plucked acoustic guitar. 'The Folk Blues Guitar of Wooden Spoon' is simply wonderful. It's the sort of music that doesn't demand your attention, so it can quite happily play along in the background as you go about doing whatever it is you do on a sunny Sunday morning like the one I am lucky enough to be experiencing today. By the same token, if you do choose to listen intently, you will be hugely rewarded with multi-layered and skillful plucking and strumming that evokes a whole smorgasbord of emotions from within. The last album I heard where the acoustic guitar was at the forefront in this way was the somewhat cloying Boards of Canada-approved Bibio, but Wooden Spoon's efforts are far more genuine and engaging. This is the sort of music I could imagine soundtracking a Jim Jarmusch film.

Wooden Spoon is the work of Owen Hills. The album is released on the London-based Bo'Weavil recordings, which is dedicated to releasing lost gems from the wealth of traditional folk and avant garde / free music available, along with music from new talent. Hills falls into the latter category. Each track slowly unravels, like a flag uncurling in a gentle breeze. Wooden Spoon's main styles, as suggested by the title of the album, are folk and blues, often mixed together in the same song. Nine-minute opener 'By the Riverside' evokes an image of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer floating down the river on their homemade raft, as it swings between bluegrass and delicate English folk, reminiscent of Richard Thompson. In 'Dead Shrimp' there's a lovely moment when you hear the wail of the siren of a passing police car, and you are jolted out of imagining Hills sitting on a swing chair in a porch in the deep south of America, and are instead placed in the basement of a flat in the heart of a city. Deliberate or not, it works brilliantly in bringing you out of whatever reverie you may have sunk into, and offers you the opportunity to appraise the music in a completely different light. The only deviation from the acoustic pluckings comes with the 57 seconds of 'Oban', which is an exercise in looped backwards feedback, and 'Piano # 2', which is a short piano piece. Closing track 'In the Dark Night' is an epic yet minimal 17 minutes of muffled plucking with a vague Eastern tinge, which works hypnotically via repetition of the slightly faltering and off-key picking. 'The Folk Blues Guitar of...' is a bold and original take on traditional themes, and a hugely rewarding listening experience.

Buy 'The Folk Blues Guitar of Wooden Spoon' from Bo'Weavil Recordings
Wooden Spoon My Space
Buy Wooden Spoon's earlier recordings from Foxglove
Wooden Spoon plays at Union Chapel, Upper Street, London this Tuesday (April 24th 2007) as part of the Daylight Music Festival. More information can be found here


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sweet Night Music of the FM Kind: A Tribute to Bronze Age Fox

l-r: Will (bass); Dom (singing); David (drums/stuff); Thom (guitar)

Bronze Age Fox - Houses
Bronze Age Fox - The Sunshine Made The Desert
Bronze Age Fox - Dinosaur
Bronze Age Fox - You Wouldn't Want Me To Lie
Bronze Age Fox - How To Fall In Love

“…many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air…”

The above quote is taken from a poem by the 18th century poet Thomas Gray, and rather aptly sums up the career of one of my favourite bands, Bronze Age Fox. You see, they are quite possibly the best band you’ve never heard. OK, so some of you might have heard them, but the majority of you won’t have. And, most criminally of all, the awesome debut album ‘Impossible!’ which they recorded back in 2005, will never see the light of day, unless some bright spark with some spare cash and a cultured ear for mighty fine pop music reads this post, loves what they hear and decides to put it out. Until then, like the aforementioned flower, their fragrant genius will go unsniffed (sic) by all but we lucky few.

There are good reasons why you may not have heard of Bronze Age Fox. For a start, they could never be accused of being overly ambitious. They didn’t enter into the relentless slog of nationwide touring, instead preferring to play sporadic gigs in their hometown of Bristol and a few other city venues, as and when they fancied it. Of course, there’s nothing to say that the only route to pop superstardom is through slogging your guts out playing all the toilet venues, but we all know it helps. Another factor could be the fact that their only released material to date includes a clear four-track 10” limited to 500, three lathe cut shaped two-trackers (triangular, square and a round 8”) limited to 200 copies each, and a CD which featured all 10 tracks featured on these obscure vinyl releases (all on their own Bagatelle Records imprint). I love the weird limited vinyl releases, its part of what makes them so special, but if you want to rule the world, or at the very least, extend your fan base, it often helps if your music is accessible in the first place.

Anyway, this is celebration, not denigration, so who gives a shit what format the music came out on or how many gigs they played? Let’s focus on how fucking good the music they made was, eh? I first came across Bronze Age Fox (or BAF as they are affectionately known) when their drummer David ‘Minotaur Shock’ Edwards gave me a tape during the period I was masquerading as an A&R person for a publishing company. Having recently signed David’s solo publishing rights, I was keen to get my claws into all the projects he was working on, such was my love of the bearded one’s immense talents, but he was adamant the two things should remain separate so I never signed BAF but fell in love regardless.

For starters, Bronze Age Fox is an excellent band name. They came to my attention in 2001, around the time every frigging band name started with The…, so to have a three word band name seemed rather exotic. I love foxes me, though I’m not sure if this would predispose me to liking a band’s music. What does it mean anyway? Nothing probably, like all the best band names - it’s just a collection of words that look and sound great together.

Bronze Age Fox is David (drums, keyboards and programming), his brother Will who played the bass, guitarist Thomas Stone and singer Dominic Jones. They are proud of their origins in Hanham, Bristol, and according to their biog, with the exception of the siblings, they met at school and Scouts. Musically, they are hard to pigeonhole (another tick in the box), though there’s a line on their biog which says, “(they have) …a penchant for pop songs but a perverse interest in sullying them with all manner of subtle trickeries” and this is as good a definition as I can come up with. It’s pop Jim, but not as we know it. Take the previously unreleased ‘Houses’ as an example, the opening track on the demo tape David gave to me. It starts with Thom’s chiming, minimal guitar, Will’s languid bass and a shuffling, groovy drumbeat from David. Then Dom opens his mouth and starts singing the brilliantly enigmatic lyrics; all soft and reverential, and it is kinda folky, but a bit poppy, and damn gorgeous and thrillingly original. As the song continues, there is a hint that something surprising may be on the horizon when the guitar and vocals distort, but that still leaves you unprepared for the Hitchcockian twist, as a screeching chunk of dissonant noise splices the song in two, before it plays out with a passage of lush, melodic electronics, Minotaur-style. The dynamic is set - sweet pop music, served slightly skewed.

In Dominic Jones, BAF have one of the most enigmatic front men I have ever come across. He shuns boring blokey rawk posturing in favour of a subtle coo, occasionally letting rip with a Prince-esque falsetto on tracks like ‘Baby, We Must Be Over’ and ‘Show Me Something More’. He is also one of the only vocalists I know to self-reference when he sings, "My name is Dom Jones, you are John Dory”, on the unreleased song ‘John Dory’ (which appears to be about a wolverine on a rampage in a restaurant). It may not seem like that big a deal, but it’s usually only rappers who say their own names in songs, and it is a brilliant quirk. Lyrically, Dom is an original talent, filling his songs with ambiguous metaphors and references to life in the great outdoors. If Ray Mears were in a band, he’d be in Bronze Age Fox. On ‘Wood on the Fire’, Dom sings -

“The wood on the fire
Is telling the world,
That he used to live”

I love the idea of the crackling log, revealing its life history as it burns.

Then there’s ‘Instrument Pt 1’, which is about a wooden musical instrument or something, where Dom name checks the band in rehearsal, over a backing that sounds like ‘Wake Up’-era Boo Radleys, with lovely brass and a jaunty rhythm. Perhaps Sice is a good marker for Dom’s voice, which he himself has described as, “A man singing like a girl.” Self-deprecation aside, Dom is an excellent storyteller, especially on songs like ‘The Sunshine Made The Desert’, the title track of their debut EP, with a skipping drum beat, maracas and strummed acoustic guitars, complimented by devious electronic trickery and this verse -

“The thing about sand in a desert land
Is it don’t talk when we’re around
Instead it behaves, and seals up its caves
'Til when we have departed…”

Or what about ‘Benidorm’, where Dom sings about escaping for winter sun, encouraging his partner to take off her “winter plumage” as they fly out to Benidorm, as she needs some colour in her life and he wants “see-through oceans”. The music is once again warm and bewitching, concluding with an electronic sea shanty set at a waltz tempo.

‘Dinosaur’ is another belter, telling the tale of a lighthouse keeper cooking soup, listening to the radio on a warm summer’s evening, content with his isolation, and pitying the city dwellers. ‘Dinosaur’ was a live favourite, with its raucous guitars and progressive synth lines, perhaps as ROCK as BAF ever got.

‘Forty Four’ deals with travelling on the top deck of a bus, listening to Basement Jaxx on recently purchased headphones. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get it by now - this is imaginative, original song writing, dealing with subject matter most bands wouldn’t even consider.

When performing live, the band didn’t take themselves too seriously, larking about and swapping instruments, but still managing to be a powerful sonic force. You could tell they were really good mates who loved playing together. There was a laidback chemistry between them all that made them great to watch. I took friends along to see them on the few occasions I was able to watch them them live, and all left with a favourable impression of the band. In fact, most of them still ask me what happened to BAF, as they felt certain they were destined for big things.

Naturally, there was label interest. A big label financed the recording of the lathe cut series, content to indulge the band, as they waited to see how things developed. As I understand it, an amount of money was then given to the band to make a video for an unnamed song, but they instead chose to decamp to the studio to record an album. Rather than praise the band for their thrifty innovation, the big label proceeded to sit on the completed album and it was this limbo that eventually lead the band to fizzle out, as they were trapped in a hellish musical purgatory, waiting to see if ‘Impossible!’ would be released. I’m sure it’s not that simple, but when you consider the dross that clogs up our airwaves these days, I cannot comprehend why a label with substantial financial backing wouldn’t take a punt on this.

The resulting album, ‘Impossible!’ is brilliant. Eleven tracks of inventive and original pop music that as the band point out, is far more cohesive than it has any right to be. It even comes with brilliant artwork for album and potential singles by the ace designer Graeme Swinton. I’m posting a couple of songs from it, but would dearly love to give the whole album away as more people should be able to hear it. But while there’s still the chance of someone releasing it properly, it’s probably wise to keep the bulk of it under wraps, like an exquisite antique car, covered in tarpaulin in a garage. Check out the insanely catchy ‘You Wouldn’t Want Me To Lie’, with its insistent, driving piano and upbeat show tune vibe. Or what about the epic ‘How To Fall In Love’; an atmospheric disco tune that kicked off when played live, with a booming funky beat, Thom’s itchy Chic guitars (and brilliant ‘call and response’ solo), slap bass Mark King stylee from Will and Euro-house synths. It’s begging for a 20-minute rework from Patrick Cowley or Francois Kervorkian. Both songs demonstrate the band hitting the peak of their powers, just at the moment the rug was pulled from under their feet. Fo’ shame…

The band has moved on. David is working on the third Minotaur Shock album, alongside other projects, and has a couple of kids; Will plays bass for the Shock live, runs club nights and is off to university next year; Thom is Amy Winehouse’s tour manager and gets papped on a regular basis; and Dom works in telly and has been recording under the pseudonym Red Setter. Most excitingly of all, I hear Dom and David are recording together again under a new guise. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with this time. In the meantime, listen to the songs I’ve posted and ponder what might have been, or just enjoy what was, because it’s bloody fantastic. Radio 2 would have loved them. I guess it’s a bit like that old adage about if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Just because the album never got released, doesn’t mean it’s not a work of genius and they’ll always have me as their devoted fan. Besides, I’ve just found out about a rare song that Thom sings calls ‘Cool, Cool Rum’, so I’m on a mission to try and track it down…

Search eBay, for Bronze Age Fox - the lathe cut series sometimes comes up for sale
Bronze Age Fox at My Space where you can listen to some of the other tracks from 'Impossible!' and buy the Compilation CD
Bronze Age Fox website
Minotaur Shock website
Minotaur Shock My Space
Red Setter My Space


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hungover: Requests and Re-Ups!

DJ Mink featuring 2wice the Trouble - Hey! Hey! Can U Relate?

I'm suffering with a stonking hangover on this fine and sunny Sunday morning, and feeling somewhat devoid of inspiration, have decided to deal with some of the requests that I've had on the blog over the past few months. I had previously decided not to do re-ups (is that a word?) but back in March Jimmy requested a "cheeky wee rehost" for DJ Mink's 'Hey! Hey! Can U Relate?', and seeing as it is such a belter, I am happy to oblige. Just the thing to rouse me from my bleary alcohol comedown.

Primal Scream - Carry Me Home

I posted Primal Scream's 'Screamadelica' a while back, which was lifted from 1992's 'Dixie-Narco EP'. The EP also featured a couple of songs produced by Andrew Weatherall at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Then, a few weeks back, a guy named Swiss Adam asked, "How about a posting of 'Carry Me Home', one of the great lost Andrew Weatherall tracks?", so here you go. It's a lovely, strung-out song, originally written by the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson for their 1973 album 'Holland', which didn't make the final album.

Cable - Ring of Fire

Finally, way back in the mists of time before I was the master of my own Empire, I was a humble correspondent for the marvellous Spoilt Victorian Child. One of the posts I contributed concerned the underrated Derby hardcore punkers Cable (if you're interested, you can read it here here), and in the comments box a lad going by the name of Brent Vukmer asked if I would post the band's cover of Johnny Cash's 'Ring of Fire'. I promised that I would pop it up later on that week, and of course completely forgot. So Brent, on the off-chance you followed me over here from SVC, here it is. Better late than never, eh? As Simon Cowell would say, the band have definitely made this song, "their own". I love the pacing, and the pauses at certain points. It's a rousing rendition indeed, and though it may be sacrilegious to say so, I think I prefer it to the original... *hides behind the sofa*

Not sure if I'll do this again, but if anybody has any requests for songs relating to any of the posts that they would like to hear, leave a comment here, and if I have tracks in question, I'll stick them up at some point. Enjoy your day!

The original DJ Mink post is here, with more info about the track and a couple of links
Official Primal Scream website
Buy Primal Scream from Norman Records
Cable fansite
Cable at My Space


Thursday, April 12, 2007

I Put My Pain in a Jar...

New Fast Automatic Daffodils - Big
New Fast Automatic Daffodils - Fishes Eyes
New Fast Automatic Daffodils - Partial

If ever an album was deserving of a reappraisal, ‘Pigeonhole’ by New Fast Automatic Daffodils is it. This album sits unheralded in my record collection, until I stumble upon it, stick it on the record deck and become completely and utterly obsessed with it all over again. It’s a truly brilliant record, modernist and forward thinking, and for this alone it should be celebrated. If life is all about timing, the fact that this album was released in 1990 is perhaps a curse. With a sound not that far from the Happy Mondays (though darker and more complex), the New FAD's were seen as just another Madchester band and as the scene exploded, some bands thrived, whereas others found themselves viewed as mere appendages to the main protagonists of the scene. Like Paris Angels (‘Perfume’) and the Mock Turtles (‘Can U Dig It?’), the New FAD's are defined by one song (‘Big’), which featured on all subsequent ‘Madchester’ compilation albums that tried to encapsulate the era. It’s hard to disagree with the suggestion that ‘Big’ is the New FAD’s best song (I absolutely love it), with it’s atmospheric melodica, throbbing bassline and iconic lyrics, but it was just one component part of ‘Pigeonhole’, and the band deserve so much more than this as their legacy.

Do I need to write a history of the band? Probably not, there’s one here by Marina Lamle from ‘The Rough Guide to Rock’, and it’s worth reading if you’re interested in the band’s origins. One thing I never knew, is that the bass player was Justin Crawford, who these days records as Only Child for Grand Central and is one-half of the DJ crew The Unabombers, who run the awesome Electric Chair club nights in Manchester. His fluid basslines were one of the cornerstones of the New FAD’s sound. Not surprisingly for a band that started life without a singer, the rhythm section was fucking tight, with bass and drums operating in perfect symbiosis. Enhancing the locked grooves was the improbably named percussionist Icarus Wilson-Wright, who added multi-layered bongos to the mix, giving it a live, clubby vibe. Now it’s not often you’ll find me eulogising about bongo players, as normally I associate them with irritating me at raves, or clogging up the pavements of Bath in tandem with jugglers, but without Wilson-Wright’s dazzling percussion, the New FAD’s wouldn’t have been the same band. Chunky, funky wakka-wakka riffs from the guitarist Dolan Hewison perfectly compliment the rhythm section, and the production is crisp and clean, allowing each instrument plenty of room to breathe. I love this sort of production – it’s reminiscent of Martin Hannett’s work on Joy Division’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’ – stark and minimal, with no reliance at all on studio trickery. It’s weird really, because if you listen to ‘Bummed’, the Happy Monday’s 1988 album that no doubt had an influence on the New FAD’s developing sound, the production work from Martin Hannett is somewhat muddy (but brilliant of course). I guess that what I’m trying to say is that ‘Pigeonhole’ sounds like a Martin Hannett production, more so than ‘Bummed’. I can even imagine Hannett banishing drummer Perry Saunders onto the studio roof to get "that sound". Hannett did work with the New FADS, (remixing the single release of ‘Get Better’ in 1991), but the majority of ‘Pigeonhole’ was produced by the band themselves.

The singer and lyricist Andy Spearpoint had a unique style. I’ve always thought of him as the haiku Shaun Ryder. Whereas Ryder wrote rambling, drug-addled stream-of-consciousness prose, Spearpoint, while following a similarly psychedelic and oblique lyrical path, opted for minimal phrases and repetitive short stanzas. On ‘Partial’ for example, the dominant lyric is a single line, “I’m partial to my high”, which is repeated throughout the song. ‘Fishes Eyes’ is similar, though taking a more menacing tone, with Spearpoint, growling out the warning, “Fishes eyes will watch your lies…”. Then there is ‘Big’, which contains the brilliant couplet –

“The desert grows three miles a year, and it just grows.
I put my pain in a jar and it will be full tomorrow.”

I have my own idea of what they mean, and their obvious depth puts Spearpoint head and shoulders above the majority of the other lyricists working during the same period.

I’m putting forward my vote now for ‘Pigeonhole’ to be given the full re-release treatment – remastered, and repackaged together with an additional CD featuring the 1991 Peel Session (which includes an incredible instrumental version of ‘Big’), along with the first two EP’s 'Lions’ and ‘Music is Shit’). Paul Morley could write some fittingly random and extensive sleeve notes and the band could even reform and play a few gigs in support of the release. I missed them live the first time around, and would love to see them perform. And while I’m at it, I’m going to track down the rest of the band’s material. Yes, I am ashamed to admit it, but despite my love of ‘Pigeonhole’, I don’t own anything by the band released after 1990. Part of me knows that it won’t live up my expectations, but I’m excited about giving it a go. Hearing new material from an old band that you love is almost as exciting as discovering a brand new band.

Search eBay for New Fast Automatic Daffodils
New FAD's fansite- it's a shame that the mp3's aren't there anymore, but there's still a discography and comprehensive lyrics section
New FAD's My Space
New FAD's discography

After putting this post together, I was looking for links to accompany it, and I discovered a piece from James Morton written back in February 2006. What I have written is remarkably similar, though his piece goes into far more detail than mine does and covers different ground. I was half thinking of dumping this post completely, but I thought that was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, especially as there are not nearly enough props for the New FAD’s on-line. Anyway, any similarities between our pieces are purely coincidental - I didn’t plagiarise James’s work, honest guv’nor!!! I hope the fact that I am linking to his post is proof of this, as I didn’t have to draw attention to a superior article on the same subject did I? It’s really worth reading, as he touches on the bands the New FAD’s influenced without ever really getting the credit (LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture etc), and like me, he is adamant that the band deserve more respect and recognition for the music they created. Nice one James – why aren’t you writing any more?

Read James Morton's New FAD's post at his blog here


Monday, April 09, 2007

Nice and Spicy

Speedy J - Beam Me Up!
Speedy J - Pepper

Out of all the albums from Warp’s seminal ‘Artificial Intelligence’ series, Dutch producer Speedy J’s ‘Ginger’ probably gets the least attention. It’s baffling why this is the case, as the more I return to these albums, the more I realise just how ahead of its time ‘Ginger’ was. Released in 1992, it is an album of real depth and warmth, taking in a multitude of different styles. It was the sixth album in the series of eight, which included two ‘AI’ compilations, and artist albums from Polygon Window (an early pseudonym of Richard ‘Aphex Twin’ James), Black Dog Productions, B12, F.U.S.E. (aka Richie Hawtin) and Autechre. Despite releasing a second album for Warp (‘G-Spot’ in 1995), Speedy J was never really accepted as a prominent and influential figure in the electronic music scene in same way the aforementioned artists were. Perhaps because of his initial association with Hawtin’s Plus 8 label, and subsequent albums of harder styles for imprints like NovaMute, Speedy J is pigeonholed as a hardcore techno artist, rather than a pioneering electronic producer.

But if you listen to ‘Ginger’, you realise just how gifted a producer Speedy J was. The album is full of variety, from the opening minimal techno of the title track to the sublime bleeps of ‘R2-D2’ and the more percussive, Detroit sound of ‘Basic Design’. ‘Beam Me Up!’ is an inspired slice of funky electronic house music, an obvious influence on later producers like Jedi Knights and even Daft Punk, with its filtered beats and twinkling, cheeky melodies. The album concludes with three tracks that are linked together to form an outstanding segment of music – the tough, electro of ‘Flashback’ with it’s rubber band bassline, is linked to the progressive, tribal ‘Pepper’ (which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Guerilla Records), by the phasing ambience of ‘Fill 15’. I can’t recommend this album highly enough. I enjoyed it at the time, but was perhaps guilty of overlooking it myself, or not realising just how incredible it was. Luckily, we have the benefit of hindsight, so if you own it, dig it out and enjoy, and if you don’t, track it down. It was originally available on double orange vinyl, but that, and the original Warp CD were deleted ages ago, so eBay is your best bet. You won’t regret it.

Search eBay for Speedy J 'Ginger'
Speedy J website
Speedy J My Space
Warp Records website


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Demon Boyz Carry Vibes

Demon Boyz - Vibes
Demon Boyz - Lyrical Culture

After taking far too long to get its act together, UK Hip Hop finally came of age towards the back end of the 1980s. Following initial groundwork by the likes of Faze One and Overlord X, the scene really exploded into life during 1988 when two London crews arrived on the scene – coming out of Brixton, Hijack, and from Tottenham, Demon Boyz. Demon Boyz, consisting of MC's Demon D and Mike J, and DJ Devastate, started out rapping as teenagers at the Rebel MC’s Freak Beat gigs, but like Hijack (who I covered in my first proper post on this website, which can be found here), they got their breakthrough by winning a competition. In this instance, a search for new rap talent held on Dave Pearce’s radio show. Their prize was to appear live on stage with the likes of Derek B and T La Rock at the Camden Palace, a performance which lead to them being signed up by Simon Harris’s seminal UK hip hop label Music of Life, also the original home of Hijack.

Demon Boyz gained respect by rapping in their native accents and incorporating ‘patois’ style lyrics into their verses (Mike J’s parents were Jamaican and he spent a lot of time there as a kid), creating a form of ragga hip hop which was pioneering at the time. This flow gave their songs a reggae-like vibe, so whereas Hijack went down a militant, hardcore rap route, the Demon Boyz style was more laidback, while still retaining a hard edge. After two groundbreaking singles, they released their debut album ‘Recognition’ in 1989, featuring production from Devastate and his older brother Brian B, under the Twilight Firm moniker. The album showcased the crew’s unique styles, including upfront productions like ‘Vibes’ with its nagging guitar sample, sirens, tough beats and razor-sharp scratching from Devastate. My favourite track from the album is ‘Lyrical Culture’, which brings the patois-tinged lyricism to the forefront of the track, including the fantastic line, “When I get the munchies, I am a potater”, which was repeated by me and all my friends for months after we first heard it. During the period after ‘Recognition’ was released, the Demon Boyz played live with the likes of NWA, Queen Latifah, Salt & Pepa, DJ Mark the 45 King and the Juice Crew (MC Shan, Roxanne Shante, Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane). According to Devastate, the Londoners smoked so much weed on the bus with NWA that Dr Dre complained. Ironic, coming from the man who would later gain mainstream success with an album called ‘The Chronic’.

Demon Boys went on to record for Island Records offshoot Mango, before releasing their second album, ‘Original Guidance’ on their old mate the Rebel MC’s Tribal Bass Recordings in 1992. The album was well received, but the group split soon after. Since then, Mike J has resurfaced under the name Million Dan, and seems to be on the verge of something approaching mainstream success, with his most recent single ‘Pull Up’, released on his own Million Dappa Records imprint, entering the 1Xtra Hip Hop chart at # 3. He has also recently released a brand new mixtape, ‘Infared’ which features Busta Rhymes, Nas, Mob Deep, Bounty Killa and Assassin, and even an old school Demon Boyz cut. There’s a great interview with Million Dan here, with all the latest news on what he’s been up to since Demon Boyz.

I’d been planning this post for a while, but when I was doing some research on the crew, I found out that ‘Recognition’ is getting a re-release on the Suspect Packages label later on this year. A 12” single featuring an unreleased remix of ‘Vibes’ has already dropped, featuring the original Music of Life sleeves and their debut single ‘Northside’ on the flip. It’s well worth waiting to buy the re-release of the album as I’d imagine it would be remastered, hopefully improving the sound quality tenfold, as the LP version I’ve got sounds a bit trebly for such bass heavy tunes.

‘Recognition’ is being re-released by Suspect Packages on 16th April 2007, with extra tracks. Buy the ‘Vibes’ reissue 12” here.

Search eBay for Demon Boyz
Demon Boyz discography
Demon Boyz My Space
Million Dan website
Million Dan My Space
Devastate My Space


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Life Moves Pretty Fast

A couple of pure gems this morning, released on labels run by the pioneering producer and DJ LTJ Bukem. Call it artcore, call it ambient jungle or intelligent drum’n’bass, call it what you want – these songs are simply sublime and they both featured on Bukem’s seminal compilation, ‘Logical Progression’, which was released in 1996 and defined the genre. They were also anthems at the influential London club night Speed, which ran at the Mars Bar off Charing Cross Road during the mid-1990s.

PFM - One & Only

PFM stands for Progressive Future Music and ‘One & Only’ was released in 1995 on Looking Good Records, a sub label of Bukem’s Good Looking Records. This is perfect Sunday morning music; a dreamy, hypnotic and gorgeous 10 minutes of lush, deep bass, graceful beats, atmospheric synth washes and a spellbinding female vocal. An absolutely timeless classic, with a bassline that was voted as the fourth best in Stylus Magazine’s Top 10.

The Chameleon - Links

Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard recorded under many guises, including Reload and Jedi Knights, and they were obscenely prolific during the mid-1990s, releasing quality tune after quality tune. Under the Chameleon alias, they produced this sensational slab of drum'n’bass in 1995. ‘Links’ is a reworked version of ‘Amazon Amenity (Chameleon Remix)’, which featured on ‘The Theory of Evolution’ compilation, released on Warp, and on the ‘Artcore’ compilation on React. It includes the “Life moves pretty fast…” dialogue, sampled from Matthew Broderick’s monologue to camera at the end of John Hughes’s classic film ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’. ‘Links’ is harder than ‘One & Only’, with a chopped-up amen break and deep sub-bass, but it mixes in an array of melodic, spacey effects synonymous with Bukem’s stable of producers.

Most of the older Good Looking / Looking Good material is out of print now, so your best bet is to try and hunt them down on eBay. The label is still running though, and there is a link to a shop on the Good Looking website, but it isn't live just yet.

Search eBay for the 'Logical Progression' compilation
Good Looking Records website
Full Good Looking and Looking Good discographies
Good Looking at My Space
Reload Online website - dedicated to the music of Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard
Ferris Bueller's Day Off at the IMDB