Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dave Godins Deep Soul Treaures

It’s not often you get a consistently good album….and to have a series of 4 sounds just too good to be true, but Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures is the real thing - a quartet of albums lovingly compiled by the late Dave Godin and released on the wonderful Kent label between 1997 and 2004.

Godin wrote for Blues and Soul magazine through the 60’s and was enormously influential in the developing UK soul scene, both as a journalist but also as joint owner of the labels Deep Soul and Soul City. He coined the phrases Northern Soul and Deep Soul. His Blues and Soul column always closed with the words “Keep the faith”…Northern Soul summed up in 3 words.

The Deep Soul Treasures series contains 100 tracks mainly recorded between1967 and 73 and while many of the artists may be little known outside Soul circles, there are tracks by Otis Redding, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson and Ben E King. There’s Irma Thomas’s "Time is on My Side" and Bessie Banks’s "Go Now" as covered by the Stones and Moody Blues respectively. Godin was looking mainly at the actual vocal performance and searching for an intensity. It may have been found in hit records, but more often than not it was to be found in the lesser known songs or artists.

In his sleeve notes he describes Deep Soul as “Music for grown ups…It puts into music, the deep and powerful emotional reservoirs that we are too bashful to voice in real life. We think along those lines but find it hard to speak along those lines. That’s what Deep Soul is for”

Godin was also important for trying to describe how these records could have a social context, like George Perkins civil rights anthem "Cryin’ In The Streets". It sounds like a New Orleans funeral march but is powerful and uplifting. As a white English writer in the 60’s he was also grappling with the fact that so many of these singers had come from church and Gospel backgrounds where they’d not only learnt to how to sing, but also learnt that sometimes you’ve got to put on a show, whether it’s for God or an audience.

The preaching, testifying Holy Roller style, where damnation or salvation were just an eyeball roll away, was a long way from 1960’s England and Sunday School religion. Everything in 1960’s UK was black, white and mono. Fact! And didn’t it just show in the lightweight music we produced?

It didn’t start to get interesting until British bands started to borrow, steal and cover Black American songs. Both The Beatles and Stones were frequent visitors to the Arthur Alexander and Smokey Robinson songbook. Then UK acts started to write their own songs, the boundaries became looser and English Pop music became as good as American.

Godin’s view is that Black American music (even when it’s Pop music aimed at teenagers...I think he means Motown, pre "What’s Going On") has always been grittier and had more adult themes. He argues that Deep Soul is less about sex but more about desire. It’s the desire that torments the singer (and of course for it to work , the audience has to believe that the singer is always singing about themselves…which goes back to the Gospel and acting argument.) and it’s that torment that comes out in the singers voice, that takes us out of ourselves. The Deep Soul moment that we can’t express for ourselves.

"Temptation’bout to Get Me" by The Knight Brothers from Volume 4 is a case in point. The singer has clear, high vocals, a bit like a rougher Smokey Robinson, and the backing is sparse and restrained. The man is in pain but it’s a beautiful sound

Because Godin’s series is based on a feeling, the actual Soul style, tempo and recording techniques used stretch from Rhythm and Blues to gospel, to country soul to lush 70’s productions. His focus on the performance means that great efforts were made to locate and include the original mono version of "Wish Somebody Would Care" by Irma Thomas rather than the re recorded stereo version. This actually matters. Fortunately the sound quality of Kent albums is always top notch, no matter where they get the original source material, unlike lots of other reissue labels that re-release recordings with the hi fi quality of a beer mat.

My favourite tracks are those that Swamp Dogg had a hand in such as Doris Allen’s "How Was I To Know You Cared" and "These Four Walls" by Irma Thomas. He was a really imaginative producer and songwriter whose lyrics often had a Country twist to them, which usually involved brackets.

They’re not on the Deep Soul series but I feel compelled to mention "Did I Come Back Too Soon (Or Did I Stay Away Too Long)" and "To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman)." They also involved great singers, really clever bass playing (Pops Popswell is a name to reckon with), funky Country Soul style guitar, sweeping strings and the kitchen sink.

If you’re only going to buy one of the series, I’d go for volume 3. You can buy the others next week.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sex Pistols/The Clash

So you’ve got to choose between debut albums by The Sex Pistols and The Clash. What’s it gonna be boy?

Sex Pistols gigs had been the early focus for Punk. Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley travelled to High Wycombe in 1976 to see an early gig, formed Buzzcocks, and then booked the Pistols for a gig at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall so they could support them as their first gig. Pretty much everyone in the audience would form a band that night…except for my friend Steve who became a building Surveyor.

Post primetime pottymouth Pistol swearing on the Bill Grundy show, the actions of venues, local councils and just general public hostility had made it impossible for the Sex Pistols to play in Britain. So they had become more of a media event with stunts like the Silver jubilee boat trip and the definitive Top Of The Pops appearance for Pretty Vacant in the summer of 77 where the band just looked brilliant, Rotten wearing a long sleeved Destroy shirt with ripped long sleeves, Steve Jones with a knotted handkerchief on his head.

The thing is you could actually see the Clash live, I never saw them in their prime but I would have loved to. The 3 figures of Strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon ranged across the stage, were each absolutely identifiable, absolutely charismatic and for Pop History purposes, the only band that comes close in terms of their iconic appearance on stage is The Beatles mop tops and suits era footage. Strummer had become the ultimate frontman, his vocals were a righteous wind tunnel roar, he’d taken Elvis “shaky leg” twitch and turned it into a stage threatening stamp, all the while hammering a Telecaster that had obviously been very bad in a former life and was certainly going to get punished now. Wise choice. The Tele would be my top choice as a righteous instrument of rock, because it’s just stripped down to the barest necessities…it’s got the philosophy of the Dodge Charger, (American Muscle Car from the film Vanishing Point) which didn’t have hinges on the bonnet because they weren’t necessary and so were just added weight.

Glen Matlock had been involved in all the important Pistols songs. In fact the only ones written after he left were Bodies and Belsen Was A Gas. When Sid Vicious replaced Glen Matlock, both Clash and The Pistols had gone all Form over Function. Both struggled with the actual business of playing bass, but they both looked the part and wore their basses swinging low, on extra long straps, like The Ramones. Good move for non-musicians…put a bit of distance between yourself and the instrument. Henceforth known as Flashers Theory…if you can’t play it then wave it about.

Of course at the time, all the talk was about destroying rock n’ roll, (cue Clash 1977 and it’s “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones”.) The difference between Rotten and Strummer was that Strummer was a fuel injected Elvis, Beatles and Rolling Stones…he couldn’t have existed without what had gone before, he was just better. Rotten on the other hand really wasn’t like any other singer. He radiated a glowering malevolence, Peter Cook snideyness but also pantomime villainy. John Walters explanation for why the Pistols were never offered a Peel session was that he used to be a teacher and when he saw the look in Rotten’s eyes he recognised the look of a boy who he would not trust with a pair of scissors in the art class… and Walters wasn’t going to trust him in the BBC studios either.

In terms of the Punk timeline the Pistols had formed first, but the Clash’s album came out in April 1977, six months ahead of Never Mind The Bollocks. The Clash sounds buzzy and tinny whereas the Pistols album has thickly layered guitars. In fact Problems sounds like a song that AC/DC could have written (one of their good ones obviously). The thing is despite Malcolm McLarens protestations, The Sex Pistols really could play. Steve Jones rhythm playing is not just Man-sized, it’s Yorkie Bar chunky. No Feelings has one of my favourite intros ever, it’s just Steve Jones battering a 5-chord progression. Paul Cooks drumming was always underrated , but it’s powerful and I’ve seen him described as one of “The Great British Bashers”…witness the flailing false ending in Bodies.

One of my (admittedly untested) theories is that the mastering of the original vinyl copies of Bollocks made it the loudest record I’d heard…certainly at 13 and certainly against the weedier recorded sounds of the first Clash album. For a long (and misguided ) period I also thought that Bollocks would date quicker as “just a great big Rock record” whereas The Clash would fare better over time because the sound wasn’t as obvious.

Of course the whole thing about Punk was the changes it unleashed in it’s audience and in the industry as a whole. One of the challenges for Punk acts was what to sing about. TV Smith of the Adverts saw love songs and cover versions as selling out, but as the Clash and Pistols albums were the 2 biggest and most important albums of the time, then what do the lyrics mean now?

Matlock summed up Rotten as “No feelings, No Fun, No Future, No Lip.” All songs or phrases associated with The Pistols…and all just a slightly bit negative. The Clash is a more of a soundtrack about a time and a location. In some ways it’s like early Who…these are songs about work (Career Opportunities, Janie Jones….contrast with the Pistols character in 17 “I don’t work I just Speed”), the weekend (48 Hours, Protex Blue), cars (Janie Jones “He's’ got a Ford Cortina that just won’t run without fuel….fill her up Jacko”) and about themselves (Garageland).

Mick Jones loved Mott The Hoople and The Clash is a rock n roll album, without the love songs, made by a Punk Rock group. Police and Thieves was seen as ground breaking because it was a white Punk band playing reggae, but would any of it have worked without the incendiary live performances and the overall feeling (engineered by The Clash’s management and gratefully accepted by everyone else) that this band were changing everything? The thing is though now it doesn’t matter…The Clash did change plenty of people who saw those early performances. They were the great Punk band that you could see live and then they did become a brilliant Rock ‘n’ roll act. With the addition of the master class drummer Topper Headon, they were big enough and capable enough to do anything they wanted to musically. And that would be London Calling

The Pistols imploded in January ’78 and Rotten’s final words at the last gig were “Ever had the feeling you’ve been cheated.” Rotten of course doesn’t see himself as the whiney negative voice of the undeserving pissed off…. of course not. But he doesn’t give any answers either. He described Bodies as being neither pro nor anti abortion…he was just asking the audience to think about it. Hmm. (Quentin Tarantino quotes from it in Reservoir Dogs as Tim Roth is dying in the post heist bloodbath. “Look at him he’s screaming…it’s a bloody fucking mess”)

Of course I love both albums, but if I had to have one it would be The Sex Pistols, for it’s sound and for the fact that there had never been any one like Rotten…of course he didn’t have any answers, but then why should he? He started it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

John Peel

Some of this piece is taken from a posting from 2 years ago just after he died...but it still needs saying.

Most of the music that I like today can be traced back to teenage evenings spent listening to John Peel’s radio show and to the attitude that he brought to music. He didn’t over analyse it in musical terms, but looked for and played the music that interested and excited him and was preferably new…and preferably the B-side. And when there were records from his past or those that gave him an emotional response, then he’d tell the listener. Music is massively important and needs sharing, and people use it to reflect and make sense of their lives.

My musical education really started with his show. I was 13 in 1977 and I used to tape it on an old reel-to-reel tape, with a mic against the radio. I can remember hearing The Ramones Sheena is a Punk Rocker and the Clash Capitol Radio for the first time and also a Stranglers session that included Hanging Around. We’d talk about the records he’d played the night before on the bus going to school. My friends and I used to laugh when he played records at the wrong speed/wrong side or twice in a row. I stopped laughing eventually but he still did it.

When my rocking band, Onionhead, released Electric Ladland in 1990, I sent a copy to him with a chatty letter about the Gang of Four, Blue Orchids and The Fall. (In fact most of the letters I still write are about those 3 bands….much to the consternation of the BT and British Gas, who would rather I sent cash or cheques) Some time later I was summoned to the phone with the words “Sammy …it’s John Peel for you”. He’d phoned to say that he’d already got a copy of Ladland, didn’t think he liked it but he would listen to it again. Class. But the main reason for the call was to relay the information that the (superior) session versions of Fall songs that later turned up on Grotesque were not being released on Strange Fruit because Mark E Smith wasn’t happy with the recordings. Obviously it would have been better if Peel had said he loved our songs and wanted us to do a session, but I still thought the phone call was a measure of his all round greatness and proof that he was ultimately a music fan. He was a fan who knew some information that he thought another fan needed to know. It’s a beautiful thing played out on a daily basis in record shops, pubs, gigs and chatrooms.

A few days later he sent me a Peter Powell postcard (autographed by the Powellster) with the topical news that Sid James daughter had been one of the women on the cover of Hendrix’s original Electric Ladyland.

He also phoned my friend Nick before he was Onionhead manager, and was in fact a celeb-pestering schoolboy on a day trip to London. Nick and his mates found Peelie sheltering from the rain in Covent Garden and told him they were in a band and on the up. A year later Peel phoned Nick to check their progress. As there had been neither band nor progress they talked about football instead.

You had to love him for making the effort really. Apparently he kept all the numbers he was given. And he actually tried to listen to the tens of thousands of demos that he was sent, partly out of a sense of guilt, partly because this was what set him apart from other Radio 1 DJ’s (he particularly loathed Dave Lee Travis) but also in case he missed something.

There is a (no doubt apocryphal) story about him going to Dave Lee Travis’s house and after noting that there weren’t any records in the house DLT responded “But they attract dust”. Peel on the other hand had an extension built to for his records.

So many of the thing’s that he played ended up as being amongst my favourites, The Undertones, The Fall, and even though I thought I’d found Country Soul for myself, he played it too.

I liked his phrasing and descriptions too. “The John Peel Wing Ding” (not as rude as it sounds), “The Mighty Fall.” His love of Liverpool FC was so intense that he’d “Take in washing for the club.” He described taking Acid with Marc Bolan on a boat on the Serpentine as being something that he was glad he’d done but didn’t necessarily want to do again, “A bit like going to Stratford on Avon.” When Ride a White Swan reached number 1 Bolan phoned him to say “John…I’m Britain’s best selling poet”

Peel’s contribution had been to play awkward music and to challenge the listener. The Peel sessions especially in the years before cheap recording technology were often the only way many bands would get in the studio. Many of the session versions were actually better than the album versions as the limited studio time available meant that there was less time for indulgence. Sometimes it was just that the engineers knew the studios and equipment so well that they could get the basic sound right more quickly and then concentrate on getting the essence of the band. And then sometimes they just sounded better… like The Peel session versions of material that would later crop up on Siouxsie and The Banshees debut or The Smiths This Charming Man.

I grew up with his show and musically he shaped not only me, but 2 generations and he gave a natural home to music that was new, difficult, perverse and sometimes just excellent. For much of the time the BBC didn’t know what to do with him and although the 90’s saw some shuffling time slots, he was essentially left to get on with it. Thankfully.

The changing nature of the media, cheaper technology, the internet, more broadcasting time and more channels means that there is (on the face of it) more room for music and more room for unorthodox presenters. But it also means that there isn’t that central focus that The John Peel Show provided. A new band you saw could have had a string of Peel sessions but have had no records released. Yet you could still see them, read about them in the weekly music press and hear them on Peel. Music is now on the one hand more controlled and managed by the industry but also, outside of that world, it’s more fragmented. It’s simultaneously easier to get your stuff out….but harder to get enough people to hear it within a short time span. For music to capture the moment it needs that momentum.

We can all be bloggers and podcasters now. After all if you’ve got a PC, you can do it. It is the modern equivalent of the Punk commandment. “Here are 3 chords, now form a band.” Record your song, post it on the net. Like that one, well listen to this, like her My Space page well look at his. “Eeh, It used to be all Arctic Monkeys and Lilly Allen when I were a lad”

But even if the ways of getting to music are changing, there would still have been a place for Peel because he was proof that you could grow up and grow old with new music and still keep your own world view. We’ve all got our own personal Dave Lee Travis’s that we don’t want to turn into. Peel was one of the good guys and I miss the John Peel Show and I miss John Peel.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


It’s just a brilliant idea…and even better if it works. Take OK Computer, an album that’s consistently voted one of the best albums ever, much loved by Q readers and Radio 6 and then do a track by track reggae recreation of it….oh yes and call it…Radiodread. Absolute genius.

It’s the follow up to Dub Side Of The Moon where they gave the same treatment to Pink Floyd’s all conquering, impossibly grown up ground breaking, sound breaking (and I’m still never quite sure if I if I like it or not) album that defined the 70’s. It’s also quite fitting that they chose OK Computer because Radiohead are so often compared to Pink Floyd

Easy Star All Stars is an excellent name, and reminds me of the Ben Stiller film Dodgeball where the “sport’s” governing body was called the ADDA. American Dodgeball Association of America.

The big question is does it work? After all we’ve been here before with Dread Zeppelin (early 90’s American band who played reggae versions of Led Zep songs, fronted by bloaty 70’s Vegas era Elvis look-alike). Admit it, you wish you’d thought of that one, but how often do you play their records?

Radiodread does work really well though, they’ve used a range of guest vocalists including Horace Andy (who’s worked with Massive Attack) Frankie Paul and Toots and the Maytals. The original OK Computer is a dark, complex record with layers of guitar and swirling treated sounds. The lyrical themes are disconnection, bewilderment and aliens (obviously) so the immediate challenge is how to make that work, using a reggae template. Dub trickery can get the some of the elements of confusion and horns are used to replace guitar lines, but the band deliberately don’t over use the guitar and bass styles normally associated with 70’s reggae. There is less guitar chopping on the offbeat and the bass is often more of a rumble. This moves the sound closer to the creeping, crawling sound of Massive Attack.

The best track is Lucky. The vocals are by 80’s reggae legend Frankie Paul and the intro manages to capture both the sound of the original recording in full flight but also manages to sound like classic 70’s reggae. In some ways it reminds me of Dr Alimantado’s Born For A Purpose. Which is a good thing.

At the end of Lucky the bass goes into the flabby metallic sound that Scientist used on all those Greensleeves albums of the 70’s 80’s…Scientist meets the Space Invaders/Encounters Pac Man/Rids the world of the curse of the evil vampires/Wins the world cup…hmm I sense a theme here. Most of them sound the same. Fortunately the same is actually good.

There a fantastic sound on An Airbag Saved My Dub which just made me sit up until I’d worked out how they’d done it…a backwards cymbal. Honestly it’s better than it sounds! Backwards guitar sounds crop up regularly from the Beatles onwards where basically the guitar has been taped and then the tape reversed, so that it goes loud to quiet with a kind of sucking sound. So, that’s been possible for 40 year. But it takes modern technology to isolate a cymbal from the drum track and then apply the same trick to just the cymbal. Obviously it couldn’t be done on the 70’s dub tracks that Easy Star All Stars had learnt their trade from. It’s an example of where the dub version of OK Computer is as innovative as the original.

In Paranoid Android the joyously, mentalised guitar is replaced by brass and it ends up sounding like The Specials, which is another time when contemporary white rock (obviously in the late 70’s that would have been Punk) met Reggae/Ska.

I think The Radiodread album works really and keeps the spirit of both the reggae tradition and the Radiohead album itself. Even if it didn’t though, Reggae Music has never had a problem with novelty and .often the quality control has been appalling too. There have been too many nasty lightweight lovers rock covers of soul and country songs. Maybe the root of this is in the fact that certainly before the era of cheap technology the industry was controlled by a handful of studio owners who also released the records. There were no exclusive long-term contracts or career development. The singer would be paid for each recording session (if at all), they would use the in house band and move on to the next studio. To keep up the interest and the willingness of the studios to pay, then you’d need hits or gimmicks…and either would do. When you think of the small size of Jamaica and the small number of people involved it is amazing to think just how much was achieved, using very basic equipment. Here’s a thought. What would it taken for Reggae to have become the dominant global musical force that Rap is today?

Jamaican music evolved through Ska, Rock Steady, the vocal trios (where reggae met soul/doo wop which was the beginnings of Bob Marley) through to dub and the digital sounds of the 80’s and Dancehall. Everyone needed a new sound and so the music continually developed. I didn’t like the sound of the 80’s reggae and lost interest really. Some music is written to sound right in a specific environment or location and if you’re not there then it just doesn’t work. I wasn’t actually spending my nights in a Kingston.Dancehall. I never got House Music for the same reason. Music is like footwear, sometimes you’re in boots when you’d rather be in slippers and sometimes you just don’t see the need to go through the musical pain barrier to see why people like something. Which is just one of the reasons why I don’t wear stilettos.

The Zutons/Wreckless Eric

The Zutons name conjures up an image of 50's sci fi, but the band are actually closer to Scooby Doo as they play scampering eager to please pop featuring songs about Thelma and Daphne…er actually Stacy and Valerie, but you get the idea. The band look suitably cartoony. They've got a big haired bassist, some good comedy beard work from the drummer and their very own Daphne. Sax kitten Abi. Short on skirt long on saxophone.

Their first album Who killed the Zutons, sounds like a collection of Pop songs set to an imaginary B movie soundtrack where the song titles like Havana Gang Brawl, Dirty Dance Hall and Moons And Horror Shows illustrate what the band were going for.

It's got odd chants and gear changes and was more in keeping with the Scallydelic sound of the likes of The Coral. Sea shanties ahoy! (There was a time when Liverpool bands seemed to be more influenced by the likes of Beefheart and Zappa rather than their traditional first stop influences of Beatles and Love. The band name that best sums up that era is….The Wizards of Twiddly. I've never heard them, but I think I know what they sound like. You probably do too.)

The Zutons second album, Tired Of Hanging Around is a more straightforward poppy affair though. The sax lines in particular sound more imaginative and less like an enthusiastic parping Scrappy Doo. There's also been much more attention paid to the backing vocals, but it's subtly done. It's not Queen.

Singer Dave McCabe's voice has the right amount of innocence and yearning, which you need in big eyed pop music. The musicianship is really good too, with lots of space between guitar bass and drums. The drums have a good natural sound. It actually does sound like a decent drummer is in a room playing drums really well. Hmm revolutionary concept. Just drums. No added tweakery. Sound Engineers have had decades to build up the expertise and techniques to do it….So why would a band want to have a drums sounding like anything else? They are righteous instruments of rock. They just need hitting. That's it. Nothing else.

Valerie is a terrific pop song. I'm fairly sure that the line about "I miss your ginger hair and the way you used to dress" isn't addressed to Mick Hucknall.

Oh Stacey (Look what you've done) is tale of a girl drinking her inheritance. "She should have kept her head and got of bed more in the mornings…Now she drinks away the will and she's not proud of it"

The girls names the band sing about do come from a different generation, and it's this and the sax that keep reminding me of Wreckless Eric. From the Zutons Scooby Doo gang to the Pub/Punk eccentric who got away.

There was always something of the pub about Stiff…all day drinking and crumpled clothes with mystery stains. Of the original Stiff signings Wreckless Eric had the unenviable distinction of being less successful than Elvis Costello and Ian Dury but he might have nosed ahead of Jona Lewie had it not been for the small matter of Jona Lewie having the Christmas single in Stop The Cavalry.

Wreckless Eric's first and most famous single was Whole Wide World and it's been covered by Black and The Monkees amongst many others. (The ultimate Wreckless Eric cover version though has to be Sir Cliff of Richard who did Broken Doll)

Whole Wide World has got all Wreckless Eric's trademarks…cracked vocals, scratchy rhythm guitar honking sax and it's got geography. "When I was a young boy my mother said to me there's only one girl in the world for you and she probably lives in Tahiti"

My well loved copy of his debut album is in the 10 inch compressed buffalo dung coloured vinyl format. (As all records should be) It's actually easier on the eye than the cover itself…. Wreckless E in matching leopard skin suit joyfully walloping a Rickenbacker. Short pissed Pubrocker in animal print…Form a queue, girls!

Reconnez Cherie has got a terrific opening line and then moves from lust to the imagined life of the artist selling his paintings in Paris.

"On a convenient seat by the lavatories beneath the sodium glare,
We used to wait for our bus in a passionate clutch and go as far as we dared."

He also manages to rhyme "Night in my Zodiac" with "Pac a mac."

His songs are often about the outsider in a shabby small town…maybe there was still rationing in his 1970's seaside town. There is something comical about him but his songs were really good, great tunes and clever, funny lyrics. In the 80's he signed to Go Discs, (home of Billy Bragg and The Housemartins, which proves my point really) as The Captains of Industry

If the Temptations I Wish It Would Rain has the claustrophobic, humidity of New York in the summer (think of the scenes in Spike Lees Do The Right Thing) then Wreckless Eric's song of the same name, keeps the title but makes his song feel English. The claustrophobia is from The Small Town and The Girl. The weather's still hot though. It's also got a great twangy guitar.

His alcoholic 1980's are behind him, he's still playing and he's published an autobiography, A Dysfunctional Success. As befits a great English eccentric and misplaced national treasure, he's spent most of the last 20 years in France.