What a shitty few weeks. The previous post below will fill you in if you’re an infrequent visitor. Thanks for taking the time to leave your comments. I read them all, even if I couldn’t face replying. Truly, thanks.
Anyway, what better way to get back on track than by digging out some slick Nigerian Afrobeat from 1977?
Fela Kuti is a real musicians’ musician. A multi-instrumentalist, equally at home on sax, keys, trumpet, drums….you name it, between 1960 and his death in 1997 he was responsible for around 60 LP releases. Perhaps only The Fall would appear to be able to top that. Much like The Fall, many of his albums are live affairs. A few are also dubious-looking compilations of indeterminate origin. Amongst the regular studio recordings, there are whole LPs of collaborations with other musicians (‘Stratavarious‘ with Ginger Baker, ‘Music Of Many Colours‘ with Roy Ayers.) All Fela’s albums are tight and taut, superbly played and full of meandering grooves underneath the politicised lyrics.
In the 70s, Fela changed his middle name. Ransome, he said, was a slave name. And Fela was nobody’s slave. He was a folk singer. The Nigerian equivalent of Woody Guthrie, singing the songs of the ordinary man. He took to singing in his own unique pidgin English as a way of ensuring Africans throughout the continent would understand his message – they all spoke in their own native tongue, but they also all understood basic English. He sang of the barbaric Nigerian Government and had a smash hit (‘Zombie‘) on the back of it. This resulted in him barely surviving with his life after a severe beating from government flunkies whilst his studio was burned to the ground. More than just a fly in the ointment, Fela galvanised his fellow countrymen into action, a real anti-establishment hero.
Fela’s music is terrific. There’s a real discipline to the playing. Much of it is simple and repetitive. The musicians could easily break out and rattle off a little lick or two, and sometimes they do. His brass section in particular (sometimes just Fela) are fond of the odd up-the-garden-path solo. But mostly to Fela, the rhythm is King. It’s a bit like Can at their grooviest – hypnotic, shamanistic, designed to subconsciously affect the limbs. Feet will tap. Hips will sway. Heads will bob. Before you know it you’ll be on your feet and wondering how you got there.
1977’s Sorrow, Tears and Blood LP is typical of his work at the time. The title track formed the entire first side, a relentless guitar ‘n sax-led tour de force, all polyrhythms and funk bass, lightly toasted with electric piano.
Fela Kuti – Sorrow, Tears And Blood
Atop the non-stop one chord groove is a lyric worthy of Joe Strummer at his authority-baiting best;
Everybody run….Police they come….Army they come….confusion everywhere…..someone nearly died….Police don’t go away….Army don’t disappear….them leave sorrow, tears and blood….
Fela’s work is absolutely ripe for sampling and reinterpretation. Mr Mendel has done this excellent remix of Sorrow, Tears And Blood:
Fela Kuti – Sorrow, Tears And Blood (Mr Mendel mix)
….and a couple of years ago, someone came up with the brilliant concept of Fe La Soul, where they took the Daisy Agers raps and placed them on top of Fela’s funkiest fills. There are whole albums of the stuff if you look in all the right places. Here‘s one of my favourites;
Fe La Soul – Itsoweezee
….and no doubt inspired by the relentless, driving grooves of Fela, during the sessions for 1980’s Remain In Light, Talking Heads recorded Fela’s Riff, a terrific piece of instrumental New York, new wave funk. I really need to do a Talking Heads feature at some point…
My formative teenage years were soundtracked by a holy trinity of 12”s – Talking Heads’ Slippery People, New Order’s Blue Monday and Simple Minds’ I Travel. Before the age of trying to get into pubs, my pals and I would spend a few hours each Saturday at Andy’s house, where his more liberal parents allowed us to play snooker in their loft and listen to music whilst hiding our grimaces from one another as we drained a couple of cans of razorblade-sharp Holsten Pils, before negotiating the loft ladder down into reality and the mazy walk home to our unsuspecting parents. They were great times.
Fast forward the best part of 30 years. Did I (shhhhh! – don’t tell anyone!) want to go to a one-off, top-secret, intimate Simple Minds gig? It was guest-list only and my name was on it. The address would be given to me on the day of the concert itself. My teenage self would’ve spontaneously combusted at the thrill of it all. Nowadays, after their years of bloated bombast and my changing musical tastes, Simple Minds mean much less to me, but of course I was desperate to go. My lips were sealed.
Now. Plenty of bands have done intimate gigs. There’s something fantastic about seeing the big acts up close and personal, even if you’re maybe really not that close. The stadium bands like Foo Fighters sometimes pop up in the smallest of places at the shortest of notice. Arena bands downsize now and again to play club gigs – I’ve seen Bob Dylan do his ‘club’ gig in the Barrowlands, close enough to see the sweat drip from the brim of his cowboy hat and onto his keyboard during Ballad Of A Thin Man. I nearly saw Prince do his after-show thing in The Garage many years ago, but a huge, house-sized American bouncer counting loudly along the line stopped a few folk in front of me and my pals, sliced the line with a chop of his arm and loudly declared, “Anyone behind this line will not get in. Repeat. Anyone behind this line will not get in.” We were behind the line. We did not get in. Repeat, we did not get in. I’ve seen Blur, Radiohead, Manic Street Preachers….countless big names in King Tuts, but these weren’t intimate gigs as we know them – the venue was the venue because that’s the number of tickets these bands could sell at the time.
Simple Minds were playing in a 3rd floor tenement flat in the west end of Glasgow. A nice flat. A big flat. But still a flat, with neighbours to the side and below. It belonged to John Dingwall, hot shot music writer at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail. The guest list was comprised, said John, of 48 of the coolest people on ‘the scene’. Evidently there was some mistake. At the very best, I had somehow wangled my way onto the list of cool at number 48, but I was there. A venue-sized PA was manhandled up three flights of winding stairs and the living room transformed into what can truly be described as an intimate gig. It had all the makings of a decent New Year’s party with added volume.
The band (Jim, Charlie and Jim’s brother Mark on additional guitar) played only 5 songs, but what a thrill! They were here to promote Big Music, their new album out on the same day. The gig was being filmed for broadcast on the Record’s website. They could’ve chosen to play 5 tracks from the album and scarpered. But no. We got a bite-sized version of a stadium show instead. It was incredible.
“When we first started out, there was a club in London called Dingwall’s,” explains Jim Kerr. “We aspired to play there but we never got the chance. Now the club is gone, but we’re still here, finally playing Dingwall’s! We used to play lots of covers at first because people didn’t want to hear our own songs. So we’ll start tonight with a cover.”
And off they went, playing their way through a stripped-back version of The Doors’ Riders On The Storm, surprising myself at least, as I expected maybe a Bowie or an Iggy or a Roxy cover. Charlie on the left is firing off little lead acoustic solos. Mark on the right is keeping the rhythm. Jim centre ‘stage’ is loving it. He’s pulling off the rock star poses. Leaning into the mic. Pointing to people sitting on the floor. Playing as if he’s doing a normal gig at some enormodome stadium in the mid-west of America. He doesn’t know how to do anything different. He can make a stadium seem like a living room, but he can make a living room seem like a stadium. A true performer.
A weird thing happens during the second song. The band are playing Alive And Kicking when I get a Pavlovian rush; a knotted stomach, an intense feeling of guilt. The 14 year old me told his mum he was going to buy the new Simple Minds single with his paper money. His mum told him that he spent far too much money on records and, no, he wouldn’t be buying it. 14 year old me bought it anyway, which I’d have gotten away with if I hadn’t actually played the bloody record.
As soon as the first bars wafted from my bedroom and downstairs, my mother was up like a shot, mad that I had “wasted” even more money on vinyl. Every time after, when I pulled the record out to play, I got a rush of guilt and I always played the record at a low volume, so as not to incur the wrath of my mum. And here I am, 30 years later, feeling that same rush of guilt. It’s the knotted stomach all over again. I half expect my mother to barge into the crowded room and demand the band stops playing. It’s really weird. I actually find myself laughing nervously to no-one during the second verse. “You lift me u-up…ho!” Weird. Much later in the evening I find myself face to face with Jim and I tell him the story. I get a pat on the shoulder and a wee hug for telling him. I’ll never hear that song in the same way anymore.
Introducing the one new track played, Honest Town, Jim has genuine tears in his eyes. It’s a song about life and death, about close ones dying – Both Jim and Mark’s mum and Charlie’s dad passed away during the recording of the album. It’s the one sombre moment of the night. As soon as the last notes of the track have faded, the band are into Don’t You Forget About Me, played with all the energy and passion of the glory years Simple Minds. More memories of spinning the vinyl on my wee record player come flooding back. If anyone had told me when I bought it that 30 years later…etc etc…blah blah blah.
We get an option for the last track – “What d’you want to hear?” asks Jim. And in the split silence before the audience make their suggestions I manage to blurt out “I Travel!” It’s an acoustic gig, I have no chance of that and Jim knows it, arching an eyebrow and fixing me with an unspoken grin. “You can have a Bowie song or ‘The American’,” he replies. The wee crowd votes unanimously for The American and the Minds are off and running for the last time, playing a stripped back version of a song I never expected to hear performed.
Regardless of your thoughts on Simple Minds, they are still a great, great band. What a unique gig to have had the fortune to be at.
Here’s 3 of the post Krauty, pre-stadium Simple Minds. Still sounding as fresh as the day they were committed to wax.
The American (Original Version);
I Travel (12″ Version);
Love Song (Album Version);
I’m at the back in the orange jumper. Ooft. That wide angle really accentuates the man boobs. I’m off out for a run…
Although it was actually released at the end of January, 1994, this week sees the 20th (20th!!) anniversary reissue of Underworld‘s ‘dubnobasswithmyheadman‘ LP. Given the kind of music Plain Or Pan normally features, you might be surprised to learn that I’m really looking forward to this. Indeed, my excitement might only be surpassed if The Queen Is Dead or Blonde On Blonde were to be suddenly released as 5 CD super-deluxe box sets featuring scores of previously unheard session outtakes and retailing for a tenner. Along with those two releases, dubnobasswithmyheadman holds a place in the higher echelons of my favourite albums of all-time list.
It’s dance music, Jim, but not as we know it.
For starters, dubnobasswithmyheadman dispenses with the notion that dance music is all about the ‘now’ – it may well be the first dance album with genuine longevity. In that respect, it opened doors for Leftfield and the Chemical Brothers. But to these ears, both those act’s various LPs now seem a tad dated. Twenty years on, dubnobasswithmyheadman still thrills.
Opening track Dark & Long is exactly that:
What is ‘Dance music’ anyway? Dark & Long could almost be Joy Division.
dubnobasswithmyheadman sounds nothing like its ‘contemporaries’. There’s none of that generic hysteric female vocal that was prevalent on every release at the time. And sure, it has it’s four-to-the-floor moments, but nothing as crass as the handbag house hits of the day that cluttered up a gazillion Ministry Of Sound compilations and their ilk. There’s not a James Brown sample or a “Baby! Baby! Baby!” anywhere near it.
At times the album sounds as if it’s running on the same sort of energy that pulses through I Feel Love. Elsewhere it sounds as if someone’s turned every knob on every keyboard all the way round as far as they’ll go, drowning the listener in a bath-full of acid squelches and road drill beats.
Occasionally it sounds stoned and other-wordly. River Of Bass could almost be Can, with its repetitive guitar riff and whispered vocals.
dubnobasswithmyheadman is a true one-off – it’s percussive, it’s relentless and it ebbs and flows like all good albums do. It’s got guitars on it! Lovely chiming, echoing, layered guitars that fade in and out when the mood arises. The vocals are a one-off; half-spoken snippets of overheard conversations and cut ‘n paste phrases, mirroring the cut-up, random cover art.
“I see Elvis!”
“‘I’m just a waitress’, she said.’”
“Don’t put your hand where you wouldn’t put your face.”
Cowgirl is perhaps the most instantly-accessible track.
Nagging and creeping, like a virus worming its way under your skin it’s a full-on four-to-the-floor smash, glo-stick techno at its longest, loudest and best, a precursor for sure to the band’s big Lager! Lager!Lager! breakthrough hit a couple of years later.
You can take each track in isolation and get something from them, but the best way to listen to dubnobasswithmyheadman is to bunker down and swallow the whole in one go. In amongst the rollin’ and tumblin’ sequencers and rat-a-tat percussion there’s a fluidity to it and because of that it’s been a recurring soundtrack to my cycling, speeding me up hills that I have no inclination to go up, whisking me back home when I’d rather take the last few miles a bit easier. Now and again I’ll hear the sound of the chain snake its way through the sprocket bleeding into the mix and this just adds to it.
When it comes out this week with all manner of weird and wonderful remixes, lost tracks and souped-up remastering, it’ll help me get many extra miles in on my bike.
Radiohead play both types of music – arty and farty, and they’re still the band by which all others must be measured. In comparison, everyone else just doesn’t sound like they’re really trying, do they?
Radiohead haven’t stood still. The left-field rock double whammy of The Bends and its more adventurous follow-up, OK Computer would’ve been the pinnacle of many a band’s career – lesser bands would maybe even have stopped after such an explosive one-two. Other bands (hello Coldplay, we’re looking at you) took lowest common denominator Radiohead and churned out the Asda price version, to much ringing of cash registers around the world. How could you improve on two great albums? Not many could. For some people, Radiohead couldn’t either. But you know better…..
I like the experimental, itchy, claustrophobic Radiohead. The static bursts. The skittering drums. The are-they-guitars-or-are-they-keyboards? The cut ‘n paste approach to the vocals. The way everything is wrapped, womb-like in its own wee Radiohead bubble. Recent Radiohead has been all about the sonic textures. The ebbing and flowing. The peaks and troughs. The grooves rather than the grunge.
These Are My Twisted Words was put up for free download a few years back on the band’s website. I’m sure you’ve heard it;
From the warped intro via the chiming, falling-down-a-hole guitar riff that surfs across the top, the whole thing jerks and twitches away like Thom Yorke’s gammy eye whilst maintaining an actual tune – the perfect amalgamation of all that makes Radiohead great. Lots of people moan that the ‘Heid have lost their way with a tune. Sit them down and play them this. The only way it could be better was if it was three times the length.
Where I End And You Begin is all swirling ambience and one chord groove. Hip hop drums and phat bass. But still slightly wonky and weird. It’s on Hail To The Thief, a quiet contender for title of Best Radiohead Album. I’m sure you’ve heard it too;
Post-rock Radiohead remind me an awful lot of pre-rock Simple Minds, back when they were releasing arty, Eastern European influenced glacial soundscapes. Equal parts post-punk snottiness and Bowie metallic art punk with a Kraftwerk man machine-like muscle, this was not music to punch fists in the air to. It was cerebral yet danceable. It aimed for basslines rather than headlines. Perfect headphone music. Mandela Day and Belfast Child were somewhere in Western Europe, a million light years away.
Here’s a couple of early Simple Minds tracks. Note the influence on mid-period Radiohead. They won’t deny it.
Theme For Great Cities
This Earth That You Walk Upon
Have you got Polyfauna, the Radiohead app yet? What d’you think?
Plain Or Pan began back in January 2007. December 2013 saw the 7th full year of the blog. The end of the year makes me come across all misty eyed and giddy at the thought of this blog being not only still in existence but in rather rude health. At some point recently, the one-and-a-half millionth visitor crossed the threshold to read all about James Brown or Lou Reed or some forgotten Teenage Fanclub b-side. Facebook followers are in abundance, Twitter sends its fair share of readers in this direction and if you read that wee panel on the right, you’ll notice visitors from as far afield as Buenos Aires, Berlin and Ayr. Thank you one and all!
What better way to celebrate 7 years of typos, titbits and factual inaccuracies than with the annual Plain Or PanBest of the Year CD*.
*I’ll provide the tunes. You make the CD.
Our team of stat monkeys works double shifts over the festive period before presenting me with documented proof of the most listened to and downloaded tracks from Plain Or Pan throughout the year and I compile them into a handy CD-length album, complete with artwork, that can be added straight to your iTunes or wherever and onto your iPod to listen to during that new-fangled jogging craze you’ll ditch by February. Alternatively, it could be burnt off to listen to, old-skool style, on a couple of shiny discs in the car.
Pixies – River Euphrates (Gigantic ep version)
Victoria Wood – 14 Again
The Smiths – Rusholme Ruffians (demo)
James Brown – (Hot) I Need To Be Loved
Supergrass – Caught By The Fuzz (acoustic)
The Cramps – I Wanna Get In Your Pants
The House of Love – Destroy The Heart (demo)
Neil Young – Birds (Mono single version)
Elizabeth Archer & the Equators – Feel Like Makin’ Dub
Beak> – Mono
Dave Edmunds – Born To Be With You
The Clique – Superman
Ike Turner – Bold Soul Sister
Can – I’m So Green
Wilco – Impossible Germany
The Mamas and Papas – Somebody Groovy
Santo & Johnny –Sleepwalk
Dee Clark – Baby What You Want Me To Do
The Specials – Too Much Too Young (LP version)
Barry Adamson – Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Pelvis
Neu – Hallogallo
Mogwai – The Sun Smells Too Loud
Trash Can Sinatras – Little Things That Keep Us Together
Pink Floyd’s Meddle LP was released in 1971, sandwiched between 70’s experimentally textured Atom Heart Mother and 72’s omnipresent, global-shagging Dark Side of the Moon. Sitting between these two LPs, Meddle is more experimental and free-flowing than its conventionally-structured follow-up; There are whoosing wind effects galore, barking dogs (the eponymously titled Seamus, named after recording Steve Marriott’s hound – it’s a howler in every meaning of the word) and one entire side is given over to a self-indulgent ambient collage that, some claim, can be synced in perfect harmony with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (side 2’s Echoes). If techno-hippies The Orb had played guitars instead of sequencers they might’ve come up with an album like Meddle.
It’s not an album I listen to very often – maybe once in the last 10 years, but I do like track 3 – Fearless. An eastern-tinged, six minute-plus electric skiffle blues played in the sort of open tuning that Jimmy Page might have employed during the writing of Led Zeppelin III, it meanders like the Ganges on a hot day.
It starts terrifically, the recurring, nagging riff underpinned by a sample of the Anfield Kop singing You’ll Never Walk Alone, Gilmour in full-on Home Counties posh boy whisper mode. Throughout, strings bend like bluesy elastic bands, electric guitars intermittently chime, harmonics ping, a piano tinkles, Fab Four backing vocals weave in and out of the rich tapestry of sound….but everything always comes back to The Riff. You should listen to it, you’d like it.
The Charlatans certainly did.
Musicians stealing other musicians’ tunes is nothing new. Pick a month at random from the sidebar on the right there and you’ll find umpteen examples without looking too hard. Right now, you’ll have your own examples bouncing around your head. So we shouldn’t single The Charlatans out for individual attention.
“Here comes a soul saver on your record player…”
Their track Here Comes A Soul Saver has Fearless written all over it. Or rather, it has Fearless written through it like the words on a stick of Blackpool rock, the Pink Floyd track the scaffolding upon which The Charlatans build their magpied groove.
They’ve done a good job of it too – all 1970s Ian McLagan keys and inspired chord changes, but The Riff continues brazenly throughout. “No-one’ll notice,” they probably thought in 1995, “it’s from the Pink Floyd LP that no-one listens to.”
And they would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for this Meddling kid.
I’ve been doing a lot of cycling recently, up and down Ayrshire’s sun-baked coast, and much of it has been soundtracked by Neu! I’ve become a bit fed up of my self-compiled iPod ‘Cycling‘ playlist, a playlist that was put together a year ago with great care and attention, added to sporadically since and been sequenced and resequenced numerous times to reflect the ebbs and flows of an average 30 mile ride – a blood-pumping fast one to start (a track by the essential yet horribly-named Fuck Buttons, the name of which escapes me at the moment), before settling into the groove and rhythm of cycling to the combined output of Underworld, Land Observations, Kraftwerk and the likes. And Mogwai’s The Sun Smells Too Loud. That’s always a good one when it pops up. But I got fed up with all of it and started listening to complete albums instead. Searching for the ideal cycling companion. Did you know, you can cycle from Prestwick to Kilwinning in exactly the time it takes London Calling to play? If it’s not too windy…
Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother of Neu!
As much as I love my guitar bands though, I prefer to cycle to electronic music. Music with a pulse beat. Music that plays repetitively. Music that is enhanced when, between the gaps in the tunes, you catch the whirr of a well-oiled chain snaking through the sprocket. Which is where Neu! come in. Not really pure electronic music, Neu! They play guitars and stuff. It’s just that, in amongst the found sounds and random ambient noises they’ve commited to tape, the band have a knack of locking into a good groove and can go at it for ages. Proper head-nodding music. But you knew that already.
Their track Hallogallo has been a cycling staple for over a year. Rhythmic, repetitive and driven by that very motorik, Krauty pulsebeat that’s required for my type of cycling (“I wanted to be carried on a wave like a surfer”, said Rother, explaining his music a few years back), it’s almost as if it was made with me in mind. Which is frankly ridiculous. If someone had told the band in 1972 that their 10 minute opus would be able to be freely listened to on a portable device whilst someone wheezed their way along the highways and byways of the national cycle network, they’d have accused you of smoking something more potent than the jazz cigarettes they were willingly ingesting.
Imagine if after leaving The Beatles, Pete Best had gone on to form The Rolling Stones. Not content with being the founding father in one extremely influential group, he goes on to build another. Dinger and Rother did just this. Both were in a prototype Kraftwerk, before splitting and forming Neu! To paraphrase an old joke, I’d say Neu! play both types of music – arty and farty. The three albums they released in the 70s – 1972’s Neu!, ’73’s Neu! 2 and ’75’s Neu! 75 are hugely influential (not then, of course, but now) and greatly important in the development of the Krautrock sound – “an ambient bassless White-light Pop-rock mantra,” as Julian Cope described it in his excellent (and recently reprinted) Krautrocksampler. Remarkably, I picked up an original in a book sale in Kilwinning library for 25p!
If you’re expecting to hear verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/fade to end, look away now. If you’re made of sterner stuff, jump right in. It’s a bit like drinking alcohol for the first time. Initially, you pretend to like it, but secretly find it hard to stomach, but before long you wondered how you got by without it.
Für Immer is the opening track from Neu! 2. “A greener richer Hallogallo“, to quote Julian Cope again. It’s another terrific example of the Neu! sound – a relentless, motorik driving pulse with textured layer upon layer of chiming, ambient guitar and occasional whooshing flung in for good measure. I think you’ll like it.