Red Snapper – Suckerpunch

This reminds me of raving in a small kitchen in Cricklewood. It probably makes you think of something else. This really puts a full stop after all the break-beat type nonsense from the 1990s.  If the bald bloke from Masterchef was judging this track, he’d probably break into his broadest grimace-cum-smile and say “break beats don’t get much tougher than this”, before some awkward editing cuts to his mate who says almost exactly the same thing in a slightly different way. The standout track from a decidedly patchy album, or perhaps the standout track from a decidedly patchy decade.  Big shouts to Phil for reminding me this existed.

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Warrior King – Virtuous Woman

Continuing from the previous post on John Eden & Paul Meme’s  Lyric Maker mix, I’ve since been on a mission to track down most of the tunes featured therein. Warrior King’s Education is the Key, built on Gregory Isaac’s Storm riddim, is one of the many highlights  and his 2002 album, Virtuous Woman, was rapidly tracked down. I wasn’t expecting much, largely due to my ignorance of anything later than about 1988 when it comes to Jamaican music and also just because I’ve bought a lot of reggae albums on the strength of one or two tracks and they’ve rarely measured up to my expectation.

I guess I’ve been unlucky and I’m not for a minute suggesting there aren’t 1000s of great LPs out there, but I’ve always been a slave to the disco 45 when it comes to reggae music. Still, this album blew me away in an appropriately righteous manner.  It never strays far from its devotional template, most of its tracks praising Jah and the righteous, with smatterings of Lover’s Rock and social conscience mixing things up a little. Mama is a little too reminiscent of Mr T’s unforgettable tribute to his old dear, though not as funny, to be anything other than uneasy listening, but otherwise it’s a gloriously melodic and uplifting album.  The 3 consecutive tracks culminating in Education (posted below) would all set any sound system alight while Never Go Where Pagans Go wraps gospel, soul and township vibes into one glorious Jamaican blend.

West Kennet Long Barrow – England’s Dreadest Site

Lyrically I’d have to endorse the opposite sentiment; as anyone familiar with the British megalithic landscape will know, there ain’t many finer places to tread than the paths of our pagan ancestors. But that’s not quite the point of course. The historical and cultural links between Africa and the Caribbean are never far from the conscience of all Rastafari music but harmonically and rhythmically this is surely the point where Africa meets Jamaica in the most delightful way.

An over-used comparison maybe, but strains of Marley on these two with I-Threes style vocals backed around some joyful Rastafari expressionism (Love Jah) or deep sufferah vibes (Rough Road):

Just glorious. Built for the sound system and the school assembly:

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John Eden & Paul Meme – Lyric Maker: From England & Jamaica

Mixes. Where would electronic music be without them? In a scene which seems to cascade into further genres and sub genres on a monthly basis, and with the digital marketplace showering us with a frankly unmanageable amount of new music, they often provide the easiest way to unearth the gems from the latest avalanche of releases. With  the big boys of the online press like Fact, RA and XLR8R offering regular mixes from stellar DJs, it’s becoming increasingly easy to saturate your terabyte of memory space with seamless waves of unholy electronica.

Yet because of their ubiquity, the DJ mix remains transitory in its nature. Generally they don’t carry the same emotional weight as the mix-tape that your best mate at college made for you and certainly they don’t pierce the consciousness in the same way an album does. A mix constitutes an hour of optimal accompaniment to the commute to work, the daily jog or a way of blissfully blocking the banalities of your working environment for an hour or two. And then they’re gone. You’re unlikely to revisit them because there’s always another round the corner.

But there are of course a few exceptions. There are some mixes that transcend that transitory sphere and find a place in your soul alongside your favourite albums. They’re the ones where the crafting of disparate tracks into a coherent whole is so adept and the finesse with which the tracks are sewn together so delicate, that they make an artistic statement as strong as an album and, in the mind of the listener, the DJ takes the same credit as the producer or songwriter.  Everyone will have their own. Mine would be Kruder & Dorfmeister’s halcyon mid-1990s DJ Kicks mix or Roots Manuva’s selection for the Back to Mine series (not strictly a mix but for the coherence of the musical journey it travels, it functions in the same way).

And then there’s this. It’s a mix that’s been bubbling around my ipod for at least the last 5 years or so, since my friend Citizen Smith, the purveyor of all things musically sound, lobbed me a copy. It went on heavy rotation all that summer and seeped into my consciousness so seductively I never bothered to find out much about it. I knew Gregory Isaacs’s Raving Tonight and recognised the tones of Yellowman  but other than that it just sat in me yard as a very very fine mix, til it bounced back on random play a month or so ago and I finally decided to seek out its origins. It was to my surprise I discovered it had been put together by dubstep legend Grievous Angel, alongside John Eden, whose Uncarved blog was to provide the source for a host of subsequent musical discoveries, mostly revolving around the UK reggae scene of the mid 80s and its stalwarts like Papa Levi, Asher Senator and Smiley Culture.

It’s certainly a mix like no other. Every track is a winner, without question, each and every one of which I’d love to own on vinyl. The tunes are batched together under the same riddim, lending it wicked cohesion. The Jamaican roots and dancehall slowly gives way to the sound of 80s UK fast chat so it just becomes that bit edgier, grimier if you like, as the mix crosses the Atlantic and brings us a step nearer the hardcore and jungle sounds that would envelop the UK in the next decade. Eden and Grievous hold the whole thing together brilliantly, GA providing the deftest of touches with the effects unit … just listen to the sirens smattered over Raving Tonight or the well-placed bass-kills that take everything next level when the low-end crashes back in.

In amongst the rhythm batches two tunes stand alone, giving respite before the mix goes in hard again. One is the aforementioned Raving Tonight, Gregory Isaacs’ most enduring legacy and one that encapsulates the bi-polar nature of much of the late roots / early dancehall scene (see also Don Carlos & Gold’s Go Find Yourself , Dennis Brown’s Weeping & Moaning, Cornell Campbell’s Boxing etc) Play it low and it’s a smooth, seductive lady-killer, one for a hazy summer afternoon or a romantic evening. Turn it up with the bass up high and it becomes something utterly different, a hard-as-nails chest-rattling sound system killer. Try it at home. You’ll see (and annoy your neighbours). Talking of which …

I was surprised to see that Tippa Irie’s Lyric Maker, which gives the mix its title, came out on the flip side to the 12″ of Complain Neighbour, which featured on Soul Jazz’s excellent compilation An England Story. Complain Neighbour is a cartoonish, almost comedy record which musically doesn’t hold a candle to its B side, but does contain the immortal lyric “everybody in the dance did under liquor / and even me granny did a drink vodka” and for that reason alone is a thing of greatness, as well as an essential historical document of the cultural chasm that still existed between black and white Londoners in the 1980s. As said though, it’s the B side that rules the dance and Meme doesn’t hold back in his assessment  – “one of the greatest records ever made”. 

Grievous Angel provides a detailed commentary on the mix on his blog, which has hours and hours of essential music, including loads of other great mixes, one of which Grime in the Dancehall (also with John Eden) runs this one fairly close and currently occupies prime position on my car stereo. Meme’s unabashed love for the tunes is infectious and there’s no hyperbole in his pronouncement that the music in and around this mix constitutes “THE GREATEST MUSIC EVER MADE” Fitting then, that this might just be the greatest mix ever made.

John Eden & Paul Meme – Lyric Maker: From England & Jamaica

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Ray Manzarek RIP

Playlist: listen while you read!

Sad news last week to hear of another musical legend departing to play the great gig in the sky. Ray Manzarek, one of the most inspired and greatest organists of the modern age died aged 74 of cancer. His influence on rock music is unmistakable, but his influence on electronica should also be noted, lest we forget it was Ray and the Doors that announced to the world that deep pulsing bass lines don’t always need be provided by a 4 stringed guitar. Manzarek live is a sight to behold, right hand carving out thick layers of melody, the left chopping out the bass line with the regularity of a metronone. In the studio, without the luxury of being able to layer his parts ad infinitum as can be done today, he created some of the most memorable moments of 60s psychedelia, from the legendary opening of Light my Fire through the techno foreshadowings of Not to Tell the Earth to the soulful blues of LA Woman. Combined with the intricate subtleties of Densmore’s drumming, the gentle moans of Krieger’s guitar and the dark charisma of Morrison’s vocals, the Doors were fairly peerless. Musically though, they lacked the bombastic power of Zeppelin or the salt-of-the-earth folksiness of the Beatles, and it was this that perhaps never endeared them to the public as much as some of their contemporaries.

it’s common to hear the Doors being derided as overrated. This is impossible because generally people don’t rate them. Ironically, so much so, they are probably now the most underrated of the ‘big’ bands of the 60s. Their reputation has not aged well. Music critics generally don’t like them. They lack the fashionable obscurity of west coast contemporaries like the 13th Floor Elevators, the deadpan cynicism of the Kinks, the overblown machismo of the Who or Led Zep, the smacked-out regality of the Stones. Dip into any compendium of 20th century rock music and they are usually dismissed as pretentious and self-indulgent. Morrison comes in for the most criticism. A bloated, self-obsessed wash-out with a predisposition towards that laziest of cliches, 6th-form poetry, is the most common portrayal. Of course this ignores the effortless elegance of his voice, the magnificent timing that accentuated the interplay between him and the rest of the band, the stunning sadness of his lyrics.  But Morrison was cursed with the most unappealing of addictions; he was an alcoholic. Like many aggressive hedonists with a propensity to addiction, he gobbled anything illicit in his path, but drink was his drug of choice. And alcoholics don’t sit comfortably in the annals of cool. The dead-eyed glamour of smack (Cobain),  the day-glo alienation of acid (Barrett), the jumped-up vitriol of speed (Rotten)  all trounce Morrison’s in terms of good-looking vices.

Unlike many other bands of the time, the demons emanated from one man only. While most groups shared drugs and groupies with abandon, Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore stayed relatively clean while Morrison fell into toxic free-fall.  There’s some incredible footage of the Doors struggling manfully through a gig without their singer. Morrison has passed out somewhere. Manzarak, adding to his role of proxy bassist as well as keyboard player, also does the vocals, imitating Jim with such accuracy most in the audience have no idea the man they came to see is absent. Manzerak’s contribution to the Doors music is unquantifiable. While Krieger and Densmore were gifted musicians, they played their instruments with understatement. Manzarek’s keyboards were the core of their sound, around which everything else revolved. He could do gentle piano, bouncing hammond, elegiac harpsichord, swirling organ.

The Doors recorded 6 albums that enjoyed mixed critical reception. Only the first two and perhaps the last are widely acclaimed. Their debut eponymous album (1967) is rightly hailed as a classic but wrongly cited as their only real album of note. It is an unbelievable record. It’s hard to imagine what someone in the 60s must have felt playing that record for the first time, from the skittering hi hats that announced Break on Through to the psychedelic joy of Light my Fire to the dark, sprawling the End (one of those paradoxically great songs that you never actually want to listen to). This was soon followed by Strange Days (1967) which largely tread the same brilliant formula – pop classics (People are Strange), piano ballads (I Can’t See your Face in my Mind), unsettling epics (When the Music’s Over). By the time their 3rd album, Waiting for the Sun, arrived a year later, critics started to mutter that they were running out of ideas, but dig deep and it’s probably the most elegant and melodic of all the Doors records. The Soft Parade (1969) is usually held up as evidence of a band flat on the deck, bereft of inspiration, the brass-laden arrangements a foil for Morrison’s depleted and drug-addled voice. In fact, it’s a psychedelic masterpiece: the song that gives the album its title perhaps their greatest moment ever, combining soul, funk, rock and blues in an 8 minute odyssey. This was followed by Morrison Hotel (1970), two mini-albums combined as one, a swaggering rootsy R & B record and a step closer to the Delta blues that would form the backbone of their final album LA Woman (1971).  It gave the world two of the Doors’s most enduring songs – LA Woman and Riders on the Storm. It featured Elvis’s bass player (the Doors had started to replace Manzarek’s synth bass with a bass guitarist from around the 3rd album) and is the most unmistakably American of their albums,  often hailed as a triumphant return to form, but to many Doors fans it perhaps lacks the inimitable strangeness of the others.

Manzarak’s relationship with Morrison was strained. And both Manzarek and Krieger are not judged well by rock historians. Stephen Davis, in his masterful biography of Morrison, is scornful of their behaviour during Morrison’s descent into alcoholism and depression. He recounts how the band, knowing that Morrison’s erratic behaviour could bring the group  to dissolution at any time, persisted with their exhausting tour and promotional schedule, aiming to reap as much financial benefit as possible from the Doors before the project reached its inevitable conclusion. Clearly Morrison needed help, but little was forthcoming. Managers, promoters, agents and band-mates continued to milk the Morrison cash cow until it quite literally had nothing more to give. But it’s easy to judge from the outside. Bands, like marriages, are often the most complex of relationships and its only the people involved that really know what went on. All we can really be sure of is the music that remains, and whatever the state of the band’s internal politics, the records paint a picture of four men in the closest musical harmony, with, in Densmore’s own words, he and Manzarek “holding down the foundations for Robbie and Jim to float on top of”.  RIP Ray. When the music’s over, turn out the lights.

Playlist: One song selected from each album that hopefully highlights Manzarek’s role best

Light my Fire: an obvious choice, perhaps too obvious, but impossible to leave out. There were two versions of Light My Fire, the 3 minute radio edit, that discarded all the best bits and the 7 minute album version, in which Manzarek and then Krieger lose themselves in 2 of the most mesmeric solos ever to grace a record.

Unhappy Girl: Manzarek’s swirling hammond bookends this 2 minute pop masterpiece. Krieger’s gentle guitar licks and Morrison’s elegant, restrained vocals provide the perfect accompaniment.

Yes, the River Knows: Manzarek may have been the master of the psychedelic wig-out, but he was equally adept at gorgeous piano ballads, one or two of which can be found on each Doors album. This is perhaps the finest.

the Soft Parade: It’s fair to say that while Manzarek’s keyboard bass in the early days did provide a uniqueness to their sound, they were a better sounding band with a bassist. The rolling, relentless 2nd half of this tune, all the while underpinned by Manzarek’s driving keys, is perhaps the Doors’ most powerful moment.

Queen of the Highway: Another shimmering, understated work of art with Manzarek’s organ underpinning it all.

Riders on the Storm: This is to the keys what While My Guitar Gently Weeps is to the lead guitar or Moby Dick to the drums. Unbelievably delicate, it is Manzarek’s most enduring legacy.

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On a queen tip. No mercury.

copey eeky

Two artists with more in common than you’d think. the idiosyncratic original gangstas of their domains. Awaiting the duet, in a perfect world.

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Flava D – Home

Intense heavy weight clash in one track with bubbling synth-led grime in one corner and deep soulful bass music in the other. They go at it hammer and tongs til about 3 minutes in, when the soul delivers the knockout blow and comes pouring through the speakers like a burst of sunshine in an eternally wet and windy British spring.

It’s tempting to compare Flava D to Cooly G because they’re both woman, they both have a letter for a 2nd name and they both make incredible music, skirting around the perimeters of garage, funky and bass.  But I won’t of course.

If you’re not feeling this one, adjust your audio settings and reinstall your ears.

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DJ Q – Trust Again ft Louise Williams

An infectious acoustic guitar riff, some highly commercial vocals with more than a nod to the old auto-tune and a swaggering 2-step garage beat … it’s Artful Dodger and Craig David back with a vengeance. No, it’s not in fact, it’s DJ Q and Louise Williams with a new EP out on Local Action Records. May be a touch too commercial for some ears, but for others’ (mine included) the marriage of melodic pop sensibility and bare knuckle beats will prove irresistible. The EP comes with remixes from UK garage legend Karl ‘Tuff Enuff’ Brown and TS7, who’s been tearing things up recently, most notably with his incredible Grade A single on Coyote Records late last year.

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