Sunday, 19 July 2020
An Audience With...
After last month's Flightpath Estate Zoom meeting with Hugo Nicolson (Andrew Weatherall's engineer and co-producer on Screamadelica, One Dove and a host of classic late 80s/ early 90s remixes) another Andrew Weatherall collaborator, David Harrow, offered to spend an evening talking to anyone who was interested in listening. On Wednesday night a group of us listened to David talk at length- he said at one point 'I warned you I can talk'- about his life, from London in the 80s to LA now, a fascinating account of a life spent in music, at times living in a fairly hand- to- mouth kind of way, trying to make a living from what you love. He talked about the problems encountered when musicians have to decide whose work the music is, who contributed what and who gets credited, whose name goes on the front of the record and whose goes in small letters on the back and how this is a big deal when you're young and hungry- and the problems those things can cause. He found his way in to music working with Anne Clark and then Jah Wobble. David spent a few years in the second half of the 1980s in West Berlin, asking for his tour pay and passport when a tour he was part of the band for ended in the divided city (an Anne Clark tour I think). He described his life as a 'full on West Berlin goth' and then his re- entry into London, first with Wobble, and then as acid house kicked off a visit to Shoom and The Clink and the subsequent change in outlook, mood and dress. In a matter of weeks he went from the long black hair and leather trousers of Berlin to brightly coloured cycling jerseys and caps, and the accompanying changes in drug of choice. David ended up not being invited to be part of Wobble's Invaders Of The Heart band and looking for something else began to work with Adrian Sherwood and On U Sound. He talked in depth about his role at On U Sound, what he learnt from watching Adrian Sherwood and working with him and the combustible mix of characters that made up the On U Sound groups- the On U Sound touring sound system, Dub Syndicate, African Head Charge, Tackhead, Gary Clail (and there was much about Gary and the situation that developed there). David's role in the On U Sound world was pretty central, playing keyboards (and being shown how to do this 'properly' by one of the On U team at one point), songwriting, programming and co- producing.
David and Andrew Weatherall's paths crossed in London in the early 90s and they worked together at various points. In 1990 David produced the London group Deep Joy, a three piece fired up by the acid house revolution and its possibilities. David's produced their song Fall which was remixed by Weatherall, a chunky 1990 floor filler with saxophone, a choppy guitar riff, some Italo piano, an example of Weatherall's expansive widescreen remix style in full effect.
Fall (Let There Be Drums)
Fall (Chunky Vocal)
Andrew said he'd release David's own music on his label, putting out various Technova releases on Sabres Of Paradise, memorably the Tantra 12" and Tantric album. They went on to develop the Blood Sugar sound, minimal, deep house/ techno, gritty but seductive music for nights in dark basements. David recalled Andrew telling him in the studio that they could only have four musical elements in a track at any one time and that if they wanted to bring another element in, something else had to be removed from the mix, the sort of detail that when you then go back and listen to Blood Sugar's Levels double pack or the releases they made together as Deanne Day, illuminates the music and its creation.
There are many parts of the story I can only remember sketchily- I should have taken notes I suppose. David wrote Your Loving Arms for Billie Ray Martin (a worldwide hit thanks to its inclusion on multiple compilations), a song David described as financially 'the best forty five minutes work I've ever done'. He talked about his decisions with humour and occasionally a rueful smile. He played keytar bass for Bjork but then turned down the position doing that on an eighteen month tour. He advised Tackhead singer Bernard Fowler not to take up the position of backing singer for The Rolling Stones (Bernard has sung back up for The Stones worldwide since the 90s and now lives among the super rich in LA). He found another musical life after hearing drum and bass and beginning to make music under the name James Hardway, a jazz/ drum and bass project that brought success around the world. He talked about his devastation at the death of Jamaican singer Bim Sherman in 2000 and his subsequent move to Los Angeles. This track has recently been finished, a song with the late Bim Sherman on vocals, remixed by The Orb, and it hits all the spots you'd expect it to.
David has continued to put music out. Sitting in his studio talking to us he laughed about the amount of technology available now compared to the kit available thirty years ago- a sampler, a drum machine, some records, a keyboard. David continues to make music as Oicho, and with Ghetto Priest, and has just put several dubs recorded during lockdown onto Bandcamp. This one, Main Earth Dub, has an elastic bassline, some distant percussion and then some of those rattling snares and kickdrums, dub techno sounds that aren't a million miles from the Blood Sugar sound of the mid 90s.
101 Steps (Lockdown 2) is cut from similar cloth, a deep, dubby, experimental drive round a city at night, the echo and stop- start rhythms building the tension.
David talked to us for what ended up being three hours, taking questions and speaking honestly about his life making music since the early 80s. There's loads more he talked about that I haven't mentioned not least his time with Psychic TV (a big influence on Andrew Weatherall too), the gentrification of Los Angeles, the club Flying Lotus emerged from and Billie Eilish and her mum, and some I've left out, but it was an entertaining and fascinating way to spend a Wednesday night.