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Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Small Axe

I've been watching the Small Axe series of films on BBC, five films by Steve McQueen looking at the experiences and lives of black Britons, especially the West Indian communities of West London. The writing and direction are superb as are the performances of the cast. The first film, Mangrove, over two hours long, tells the story of the Mangrove Nine, racist policing in the late 1960s, institutional racism and the growth of black activism. It's a film that boils the blood in it's portrayal of the police harassment of Mangrove café owner Frank Crichlow and subsequent the court case and it's a visceral and powerful piece of film making.

The second film in the series is Lovers Rock, a different take on the lives of black West Indian immigrants and their children. It's set in Notting Hill, where a blues party unfolds almost in real time, from the removal of carpets and the furniture from the front room to make space for the dancers to the sound system setting up while three of the women cook goat curry in the kitchen while singing Janet Kay's Silly Games. Early on in the evening the front room fills with young women, dressed up and wanting to dance. The dancing to Silly Games and the spontaneous singing of the song by the crowd after the 7" single has finished is superbly done, music (reggae specifically) as a joyous, communal experience. 

The film is a celebration of these people's lives but it doesn't flinch from the racism that's never far away in 1975. Lead character Martha briefly exits the party to follow her friend who's just left but goes only a few yards up the road before being racially abused by a group of young white men. She returns to the blues party, McQueen showing how the black community, excluded from the area's pubs and clubs due to the colour of their skins, are forced to make their own entertainment and run their own parties. 

The second half of the film kicks in after an altercation in the garden between three of the characters. The sound system moves onto harder and tougher tunes and the men crowd the dancefloor. The Revolutionaries 1976 single Kunte Kinte is spun, a rocking dub, and the crowd demand a rewind. McQueen's direction of the dancing is incredible and the intensity of both the scenes involving the sound system and the dancers are incredible. If you haven't already, watch both. 

Kunte Kinte (Version) 

The third one was on Sunday night, a film called Red, White And Blue, dealing with the London Metropolitan Police, but I haven't watched it yet. 

Monday, 30 November 2020

Monday's Long Song

Some more of that warm, enveloping ambient haze that has been sound tracking much of this year for me, today in the shape of a Richard Norris remix, very much in his Group Mind/ Music For Healing/ Abstractions mode. The original version of Hopfen is by Kams, from an EP full of found sounds, electronic weirdness, synths and field recordings. Richard paints yet more layers, adding drizzle, piano, drones, crackles and fug. Buy the whole release at Bandcamp. It's a perfect companion piece to Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns' new Stray Harmonix track, Mountain Of One, posted on Saturday

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Shadow Of Fear

If you're after a dystopic album to soundtrack your life-and given the state of the world why wouldn't you?- then you could do a lot worse than the new release from Sheffield's post- punk pioneers Cabaret Voltaire and the new one, Shadow Of Fear. The Cabs are now the vehicle of one man, founder and multi- instrumentalist Richard H. Kirk, who recorded the nine songs at the famous Western Works studio in his hometown. Whether it is really Cabaret Voltaire without long standing but now departed partner Stephen Mallinder is open to question I suppose but we'll let that pass. At first having read a couple of reviews and an interview I thought Shadow Of Fear might be a bleak and oppressive listen, impressive but not an album to return to very often but that isn't the case and while it's definitely ominous and industrial it's got dance rhythms and textures and some glints of light among the shade. Mechanised drums, sampled disembodied voices, dashes of acid, some fuzzy, distorted guitars and basslines and layers of noise. It's urgent and has an energy and shows the sixty- four year old Kirk still has something to say and still has the tools to say it with. 

Back in 1983 Cabaret Voltaire released Yashar, a12" single on Factory. Yashar and the John Robie remix on the B side is one of the peaks of Factory's early 80s (and that's a crowded field). A record very of its time and ahead of it too. 

'There's 70 billion people on earth'

'Where are they hiding?'


Yashar (John Robie Mix)

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Mountain Of One/ Slow Electric

Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns were the two members of Sabres Of Paradise who weren't Andrew Weatherall. Re- united in tragic circumstances at Lord Sabre's funeral this year they agreed to work together again. The first fruits of this were released yesterday, a cinematic, stately, ambient track with softly played piano dedicated to the man himself. Mountain Of One by Stray Harmonix is available at Bandcamp

Back in the early 90s DJ mix tapes did a roaring trade in record shops, clubby boutiques, Afflecks Palace type places and outlets that sold poppers. Andrew was in the habit of running off limited quantities of mixes he'd done himself and handing them out to the first 50 punters through the door, a habit he kept up through Sabresonic, Blood Sugar, The Double Gone Chapel (moving to CDs) and A Love From Outer Space. This one, two sides of a C90 tape was given away in 1993 titled Sabresonic Slow Electric Vol. 1. At some point it became re- christened as Massive Mellow Mix, a most un- Weatherall name, but actually quite fitting given the music contained within. Twenty- seven years after Lord Sabre put it together it still sounds superb, the art of the DJ perfectly demonstrated. 

Given the technical limitations of tape as a source material it sounds really good sonically. A timeless, chilled, trippy, electronic adventure- soothing science fiction soul (or something like that). 

Sabresonic Slow Electric Vol. 1

  • Anaconda "Ideas for Virtual Reality" (aka Hole In One "Spiritual Ideas for Virtual Reality")
  • The Primitive Painter "Levitation"
  • Dubtribe Sound System "Sunshine's Theme"
  • State of Flux "Mercury"
  • The Primitive Painter "Cathedral"
  • Ebi "Chuu"
  • Some Other People "Astralise" (Dark Globe Remix)
  • The Primitive Painter "Invisible Landscapes"
  • Sqvid "Emprisoning Sounds on a Piece of Wax"
  • The Keyprocessor "Feary Tales"
  • State of Flux "The News"
  • Alec Empire & Ian Pooley "Untitled"
  • Ebi "Sou"

Friday, 27 November 2020

The Birds

In 1984 Rick Cuevas released an album called Symbolism, a self- released private pressing. There's a copy on Discogs priced at £133.23 if you're interested.  Rick's background was in AOR/ soft rock, and he had past history in Zru Vogue (early 80s post- punk, avant- pop from Palo Alto California) and Science Patrol (no idea). He self released another album in 1994 and a couple of singles and that's about as much as I know. This song came my way in the summer- trippy guitar, a drum machine and a laid back vocal, more lovely ringing guitar parts and then halfway through a synth solo where the song soars even higher. There's something incredibly unaffected about the song, even with all the FX and the synth, a song capable of lifting you for a few minutes out of your surroundings. 

The Birds

Thursday, 26 November 2020


Diego Maradona died yesterday aged 60. I feared for him a few weeks ago when he was hospitalised with a blood clot on the brain but the surgery seemed to go well. A heart attack did for him in the end. In a way it's a marvel he lived as long as he did. His drug abuse and weight gain is well documented and anyone who watched the short documentary series about his time managing Mexican club Dorados will have seen the damage done to his body, some self- inflicted, some punishment meted out by defenders in Spain and Italy in the 1980s, punishment for being the most gifted footballer in the world, a man who on his day was unstoppable. He was a single handed force of nature. In 1986 he captained his national team to the world cup. In 1986- 7 he led Napoli to their first ever Serie A title at a time when the Italian league was the best and toughest in world football. He did it again and then took them to a UEFA cup win as well. In Napoli he found an underdog, a city and team who were the target of abuse from the northern giants of Juventus, Milan and Inter, emblematic of Italy's north- south divide. Naples and the south are sometimes referred to as Africa by the rest of Italy, which tells you a lot in lots of ways. In Napoli he is revered as a God, the man who gave the city a middle finger, plenty of tears, a week long party following their 1987 scudetto and some incredible football to wave in the faces of their rivals in the more sophisticated north. He also became so deeply entwined with the Naples mafia that his life began to spiral out of control. 

At some point in 1982 I found an Argentina shirt in the bargain bin of our local sports shop. I suspect it was in there due to the sheer unlikeliness of selling it at full price due to the Falklands War and getting £3 for it was better than nothing- but there it was, pale blue and white stripes, embroidered badge and Le Coq Sportif logo, the same as the one Diego is wearing above. I bought it. I was the only person I knew who had an Argentina shirt and to be honest it did wind people up a bit. In a PE lesson a teenage peer stood behind me, gave me a shove in the back and said 'I'll mark Galtieri'. On holiday once some kids threw stones at me. It didn't stop me wearing it until I outgrew it. Diego Maradona's rise and the shirt were somehow tied together for me. In 1984 I was at Old Trafford aged fourteen when United played Barcelona and Maradona. Barca were two- nil up from the first leg and we weren't given much of a chance of winning the tie. Old Trafford was filled that night, fifty- five thousand and the place was bouncing from long before kick off. European football was a rarity in those days for Manchester United fans and I think it was my first night game too, the floodlights giving everything extra drama. United won three- nil, incredibly, and Diego barely got a kick. But I saw him play and I've loved him since around then. 

Englishmen aren't supposed to love Diego Maradona. They're supposed to hate him for the crime of handball in 1986, a goal which played its part in knocking England out of the world cup. Diego said that in South America the art of getting away with it, of fooling the referee and the opposition is part of the game. To northern Europeans, it is cheating and that's that. The second goal he scored that day where Diego spins on a spot and then slaloms his way through the England team beating one man after another before slipping the ball into the net is worthy of winning any game. What the handball clips rarely show is the series of fouls he suffered from a largely prosaic, lumbering England defence and the full elbow in the face he receives. Somehow that was never seen as cheating. 

I loved him in 1986 and the scenes when he lifted the world cup. I loved his return in 1994, the goal against Greece, the run towards the camera and then the disgrace as he failed a drugs test and was sent home. I love the grainy footage of him in Italy scoring goal after goal, outrageous chips and unnatural balance while Italian centre backs try to kick lumps out of him. I love his chaotic life after retirement, the holidays in Cuba at Fidel Castro's house, the carnage of the day out at the 2018 world cup when Argentina played Nigeria, the footage of him dancing in Naples nightclubs in the 80s and training on mudbath pitches. A flawed genius for sure, a life lived at the edge of reason also, but a life lived by a man who rose from poverty in the slums of Buenos Aries to attain genuine greatness, often almost single- handedly. He lit up the lives of millions and football and the world was richer with him in it. 

RIP Diego Armando Maradona.

When Julian Cope published his existential, football hooligan, Neolithic, time travel/ road novel One Three One he created a slew of bands to go with it. The most full realised was the brilliantly named Dayglo Maradona. 

Rock Section (Andrew Weatherall Remix)

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Petrol Blue

Daniel Avery has released a new song, the one that is B- side to his Lone Swordsman track (first out digitally in September, out on 12" in January). Petrol Blue is a beauty, definitely not just an offcut or makeweight slipped onto the B- side to make up numbers. In the press release to accompany it Daniel describes the view from his studio, a metal shipping container overlooking the Thames-

'The views across the water without a single sight on the horizon always create a certain atmosphere in my mind, some kind of unknowing warmth. Real life seems pretty distant in those moments.'

There's something in those words that he has nailed completely in the music- the slow motion drum intro and tambourine/ shaker, the twinkling synth part and then the bassline. The washes of sound and keyboard melody on the top bring the 'unknowing warmth'. Lovely stuff. I think one of the things I've missed most this year has been the sea. In the summer, just before we went into Tier 3, we had a day out in Liverpool and walked down by the Mersey along Otterspool promenade. Hearing the waves hitting the seawall was much needed. We had two days in south west Scotland and walked on the beach at Southerness, despite the wind and occasional rain. 

Just in case you needed a reminder this is Lone Swordsman, Daniel's tribute to to Andrew Weatherall, recorded the morning he heard the news Andrew had died. There are moments where it suggests Smokebelch by Sabres Of Paradise without ever quite going there and stands out as one of the most emotive and beautiful pieces of music released this year. There are still a few vinyl copies available for order if that's your bag.