Tuesday, 4 August 2020
Back from our isolated mini- break in south west Scotland yesterday, three days in remote places- Cairn Holy (a pair of Neolithic chambered burial chambers), Caerlaverock Castle, a walk in a forest near Gatehouse Of Fleet, some quiet beaches at Southerness, Rockliffe and Kippford, fish and chips at Kirkcudbright (this was the most interaction we had with people, ordering food while wearing face masks, gloves and standing behind a line taped out on the floor, which when you think about it makes you realise what a bizarre world we are living in this year)- and a caravan site.
Roisin Murphy is having a peak couple of years. Following her run of 12" singles two years ago she's now been leading into an album coming out in September. In 2019 she put out Incapable, an monstrously deep and funky piece of machine house and the dazzling disco of Narcissus. Now she has sent this out into the world, written by New York songwriter and force of nature Amy Douglas and once again recorded with Sheffield's Richard Parrot Barratt aka Crooked Man. Something More is eight minutes of slowed down, slow burning, spacious groove with a sense of what we have lost in 2020 and the fact that we all currently feel the need for something more.
Friday, 31 July 2020
Shielding ends today. Our son Isaac is classed as an extremely vulnerable person and we have been in lockdown since the middle of March. The last few weeks have been very frustrating as we have watched the rest of the world start to go back to some kind of normality, people going to pubs and restaurants, people going on holiday, the roads filling up again, streets getting busy, while we feel left behind. I drove through the town centre last weekend and it looked like a bank holiday, people all over the streets, outside pubs and milling about. I'll leave to one side the rights and wrongs of all of this, or my perceptions of right and wrong. One thing I don't like about the last few weeks has been the way that it's got so easy to become judgemental about anyone doing things differently to yourself and I've tried hard to stop myself from doing it but I know I've failed at times. This isn't any easier when you see people whining about having to wear a face covering for a few minutes in a shop as if it's some major infringement of their civil liberties. Shopping, unless it's for food, is a leisure activity, something to pass the time, so to refuse to put other people's safety first by wearing a mask while shopping for something to cheer you up is just wrong. Of all the hills to take a stand on, refusing to wear a mask to slow down transmission of a potentially fatal disease seems a bizarre one. The libertarian right wing are a poor bunch with a shit value system- they take the view that their 'freedoms' are more important than everybody else's health.
The reality of stepping out of shielding is pretty worrying, going from no contact with anyone outside the household to some contact with other people, at a time when it's clear the virus has not gone away. On the other hand, he (and we) can't stay locked down forever, we have to start to step out into the world again. There is some advice from the government about this, opening up to a group of people in outdoor settings, going back to work or day care if they are Covid secure etc but frankly taking advice from the current government seems like the last thing you'd want to do. The ONS reported yesterday that England had the highest levels of excess deaths in Europe in the first half of 2020. The people responsible for that are the current elected government, the same ones giving us advice about coming out of shielding. It was much easier back in April and May when everyone was in the same boat and dealing with the same set of rules (and the government fucked that too with the Cummings episode). Meanwhile talk of a second wave and spikes is rife and rates are rising in various places, some not very far from us. The re- opening of pubs will inevitably lead to a rise in transmission. It looks premature to talk of a second wave when in England we don't seem to be out of the first wave yet. Further lockdown beckons. Grim.
We will be taking entry out of shielding slowly. We have booked a caravan for three nights in a remote location, South West Scotland, not so far away that we'll need a service station stop on the way. We can wipe down the caravan on entering it, take walks in some remote places and possibly risk buying fish and chips. I think it's fair to say the last four months have left us fairly institutionalised and risk averse but if nothing else the view from a caravan on the Solway Firth for three nights will be different from the view from our front room.
I've been enjoying the latest release from the prolific and talented Ripley Johnson, a man who just doesn't stop. After 2018's Wooden Shjips album and tour and the same last year as Moon Duo he now has an album out as Rose City Band. Psyche country and western, some very laid back late 60s Laurel canyon vibes crossed with that motorik drumbeat, droplets of guitar and those whispered vox. This one, album closer Wildflowers, is a beaut.
Edit: various changes to restrictions were announced last night affecting the north west of England. I find it hard it understand how the new restrictions mean you can't meet in people's homes but you can still meet in pubs. Where's the risk and where's the priority, public health or the economy?
Thursday, 30 July 2020
This arrived via email and has gone straight to the top of my listening list, a sharp focussed four minutes of fun from Number (Rich Thair and Ali Friend, both also of Red Snapper). Number's album Binary came out earlier this year, an exhilarating blast of punk- funk, dance rhythms, live drums, grooves and DIY, songs you can dance to. The song Wedge has now been rejigged by A Certain Ratio, a partnership that seems blindingly obviously really and the end result is this...
And if that doesn't shine some light into your day and set you off with a bounce in your step I don't know what will. Wedge (ACR Rework) sounds like exactly the sort of tune that should soundtrack a party at The Face magazine's end of year knees up in 1983 while also being bang on the 2020 money. A vibrant and energetic re-working, vocals and whistles and laser noises riding over a funked up rhythm and squelchy bassline. And yet more proof that ACR are firing on all cylinders.
Wednesday, 29 July 2020
African Head Charge's 1990 album Songs Of Praise is on my stereo a lot at the moment. Adrian Sherwood has been re- issuing the AHC albums in sequence and the double vinyl brings together the eight songs from the original vinyl release, the extra six from the CD/cassette release and three further ones, seventeen songs in total. Sherwood and percussionist Bonjo Ivabinghi Noah had turned African Head Charge into a group by 1990, rather than just a Sherwood studio project, and they found a ready crowd at festivals. For Songs Of Praise they pulled together a dizzying array of sounds and influences to make a masterpiece. Using Sherwood's record collection as a sample library they found various religious vocals- chants, hymns, gospel voices, many from Alan Lomax's field recordings- and set them to some stunning pieces of music- African drums and percussion, Niyabinghi rhythms and dub basslines. On top of these songs various On U Sound members add further instrumental parts, such as Skip McDonald's fuzz guitar lines. The result is a genuine brilliant, mystical, psychedelic dub album, an album open to all the possibilities of the world's music, adventurous, accessible, weird and trippy and completely absorbing, the deep bass, African rhythms and the voices perfectly complementing each other, suggesting some ritual and celebration that draws in folk from all cultures into an On U tribe.
Tuesday, 28 July 2020
It was genuinely shocking and so sad to read yesterday afternoon of the sudden death of Denise Johnson. Denise was a feature of the Manchester music scene for the last three decades and her voice is scattered through my record collection, from Hypnotone's Dream Beam in 1990 to singing on Primal Scream's Screamadelica album, especially Don't Fight It, Feel It single, the wondrous Screamadelica song from the 1992 e.p. and the Give Out But Don't Give Up lp (and the recently released original version The Memphis Recordings where her voice really shines), Electronic's 1991 single Get The Message and then the many years she spent singing as a member of A Certain Ratio. Her voice is all over the ACR: MCR album and the Won't Stop Loving You single and it's remixes, all personal favourites. She sings on Ian Brown's Unfinished Monkey Business (the first and best Ian Brown solo album). In 1994 she released a solo single Rays Of The Rising Sun, a song with Johnny Marr on guitars and with an epic thirteen minute remix by The Joy.
Rays Of The Rising Sun (The Joy Remix)
In the last few years I've seen Denise sing with ACR on several occasions, at Gorilla (above), in Blackburn, at the university and The Ritz (below). She was always an engaging stage presence, smiling and waving at people in the front row. What's particularly cruel about her passing now is that ACR have a new album ready for release in the autumn and she had very recently announced the imminent release of her debut solo album, a collection of cover versions of songs, just her voice and acoustic guitar.
Her singing with Primal Scream, especially on this song, was a breakthrough for the group. No Bobby Gillespie, no guitars, just Denise's voice and Andrew Weatherall and Hugo Nicolson's production- that juddering rhythm, house pianos and those spacey noises and Denise singing 'rama lama lama fa fa fi/ I'm gonna get high 'til the day I die'. The remix for the 12" was even better and further out than the single mix, her voice chopped up, rejigged and sprinkled throughout the song.
Don't Fight It, Feel It (Scat Mix)
At all their recent gigs A Certain Ratio have finished their set with Shack Up, their cover of Banbarra's funk song, remade in early 80s Manchester as scratchy, punk- funk song. THis clip shows them back in 1990 on MTV, Denise centre stage...
Denise used to live round the corner from us and we were on smiling and saying hello terms but not much more than that. At ACR's gig at The Band On The Wall in 2002 launching their Soul Jazz compilation, the moment when they really began to get recognition for their role and music, she clocked us from the stage and winked and smiled. She was an active and lovely presence on Twitter, always positive and giving her views on politics, football and music. She came across as a genuine, friendly and lovely person. Social media was awash with tributes to Denise yesterday and reactions to the awful news and from people who were close to her and who worked with her. She was spoken of with real warmth and it was clear what she meant to people. She will be hugely missed. I'm sure everyone will join in sending their condolences to her family, friends and bandmates. What a shitty year 2020 has been.
Monday, 27 July 2020
I found this over the weekend, posted at the excellent Ban Ban Ton Ton website, and it has occupied my head quite a bit since. Italian DJ and producer Manuel Fogliata has recorded as Nuel and back in 2011 he released Trance Mutation, an album of minimal, organic repetition. Recorded round a single microphone in his home town near Rimini, Vibration and the other six tracks on the album take the structure electronic music but the instruments of much earlier times, rhythms and repeating melodies, something that sounds very old and also very new. Vibration has hand drums and a stringed instrument, a piano motif, some bells and shakers, lots of natural echo and, I think this is the word I'm looking for, flow.
The whole album is available digitally at Bandcamp. Ban Ban Ton Ton said that this is one album crying out for a vinyl repressing and I second that.
Sunday, 26 July 2020
Out a couple of weeks ago and revealing new layers with each play, the new album from Future Beat Alliance is a keeper. Two years ago he (Matthew Purfett/ Future Beat Alliance) released Black Acid, a seven minute slice of Detroit inspired sleek, intense, hypnotic, acid techno. That track features on Beginner's Mind but stands out as the only one in that vein. Much of the rest of the nine pieces of music are slowed down, contemplative electronic music, more ambient than techno- seascapes rather than strobe lights. Layers of synths and strings, warm bass, percussion, melodic woodblocks tumbling, chimes, the echo and space of dub with the long chords of Detroit techno, an album that works as a long player (something that seems to be making a comeback).