Friday, January 16, 2009

Time Is Tight

For the last three or four days my back’s been giving me what my Dad would have called ‘serious jip’. It happened in a split second during yet another shifting of the bloody suitcase that had a black and brown sticker emblazoned across it quite a while back, cautioning said luggage as a heavy object. And that it most certainly is.

A grasp of the green case-handle, one tug ‘n lift upwards… and over and… ohhhhhhhhh, fxxk… ouch… fxxky fxxk fxxk fxxk – a stab of pain shot through my lower lumbar region like the very devil being pursued by the zealous horsemen of the apocalypse. Its now rendered the simple acts of sitting down and getting up high-up on the excruciating-ometer… to, I’d say, the buttock-clenching degree of… ouch

No, Clutterbuck Minor – stop… laughing… at the back. This is not a variant on man-‘flu; its far too real and makes travel by any means or foul darned uncomfortable as well.

The train I’m riding is awash with people; nations speaking in tongues, whispered conversations to (assumed) loved ones behind the privacy of a cupped hand alongside hoarsely barked instructions to quizzical office staff back at base camp under the adage of – if the signal is lousy, then simply bellow louder.

The full-throttle annoyance of the roaring passenger is felt by an entire – crammed in like sardines – carriage when entering or emerging from anywhere remotely subterranean where cellular contact is lost paralleling into this peculiar reliance and assumed need of being in total, absolutely full-on contact with the outside world. The entire time.

Its a day when Barclays Bank, Jaguar and Land Rover – all long-standing bastions of British Industry – have announced yet more job cuts; when the Labour Government’s Business Minister – Baroness Vadera – shot herself squarely through the foot at lunchtime by suggesting that she could see green shoots of recovery on the rotten tree of the economy.

I just wonder if a more constructive reality within a journey such as this would be to enter an analogous universe by switching off from the humdrum.

Everyone, everywhere is under pressure – generally though no fault of their own and the mid-January bills have started to drop on doormats from a mis-spent December and the tallyman’s come a-calling when money’s too tight to mention.

So… what better time to journey to the metropolis and fly the flag of complete belief on behalf of Project X..?

The appointment that I’ve been kicking my heels over for the last couple of weeks was arranged during the final countdown to the Christmas break; a within 24 hours e-mailed response to my hand-delivered resume of Project X from the Chairman of the IFPI – essentially the organization that the represents the recording industry worldwide.

They’d liked what they’d read and wanted to meet me and I, most certainly, wanted to meet them. Game on.

Despite train delays, I’m early for the 2pm face-off; and Pantoni’s coffee bar directly opposite from their corporate HQ on Piccadilly seems like the ideal spot to mentally prepare – one humungous cappuccino at an equally monstrous price (probably due to my requesting extra lashings of chocolate across the top) is ordered and I await my co-conspirator – he of the domed and partly-balding pate, bristly beard and scholarly glasses. All of which belie the sharpness of intellect and razor-like understanding of ways in which we can collaborate to take this entire concept forward.

To while away the time, I start to properly compile just one of the compilations that I’ve so recently discovered I’ll no longer be assembling for Island 50. If truth be known, I’m still smarting from that rebuttal – it really was a bitter blow to unexpectedly learn that that entire assignment has been given over to someone else in-house.

What would have gone in there..? And what would I have titled this one, I wonder, getting froth on my lips and scalding the back of my throat. I’ve got my lists to hand… a pen and a notebook…. so, lets have a little look-see.... shall we?

Ok – this one would, I reckon, have been entitled Flying Without Wings – why..? It seems to work and I rather like the neatly ambiguous phrase… plus, it – to me – sort of sums up Island as a label…

And the running order would, I imagine, have been a bit like this… and I’ve tacked on a few of my own reasons for including this or that song as well.

1) Roy C – Shotgun Wedding… released as a single on the Sue label, the very first bona-fide Island Record I ever owned (where better place to start?); something of a minor hit although I don’t believe Roy C (whoever he was) ever made another record – unless he was the Roy with whom Millie of My Boy Lollipop fame once duetted. Maybe he was – there can’t be that many singers in Jamaica called Roy… can there?
2) The Christians – Born Again…so many gemstones within their catalogue to choose from, so many cuts where the band are at their zenith and a shaven-headed Gary Christian’s voice is like melting honey in amongst the impeccable harmonies; this – both sonically and emotionally – fits like the proverbial glove.
3) Zappow – This Is Reggae Music… a grade-one, absolutely timeless, any-year-you-like classic yet straight out of mid-Seventies downtown Kingston.
4) Tom Waits – In The Neighbourhood… it could have been Frank’s Wild Years, it could have been a dozen others from Tom’s Island days but again, its about what fits the mood and Waits’ lurching voice of gravel within this masterwork sits faultlessly.
5) Passengers – Your Blue Room… the one and only (thus far) Eno / U2 writing collaboration; the (more) obvious choice would have been the duet between Bono and Pavarotti (Miss Sarajevo) but this haunting song that was used in Wim Wenders’ film Beyond The Clouds somehow works better. Plus, the ending would segue-wave brilliantly into…
6) Traffic – No Time To Live… a scarily overlooked total cannon-ball of a song from Traffic’s eponymously entitled second record. Chris Wood’s ways-away, stage left, almost out of earshot saxophone adds an eerie feel to the mists invoked; Winwood’s voice at its remarkable best.
7) Scotty & Lorna – Skank In Bed… the ‘b’ side to their seminal single, Breakfast In Bed… all dubbed up over ruffled sheets and long before duvet’s had been introduced. Pure musical sex; you just know that they’d been enjoying themselves all night… rather a lot.
8) Bronco – Bumpers West… festooned with a bank of acoustic guitars, the closing track from the Jess Roden fronted combo’s first record, Country Home, a superior slice of honeydewed Midland’s C&W with attitude.
9) Fairport Convention – To Althea From Prison… a superlatively reading of verses one, two and four of Richard Lovelace’s magical 1642 poem taken from Fairport 9; a paean to love from behind bars with a coda that, after all these years, still arouses the hairs on just about anyone’s neck. A far too often overlooked Fairport masterpiece. If there was a slightly longer version – with an extended instrumental run-out, then that’s the version I’d have included here.
10) Mike Nesmith – Flying Down To Rio… who’d have thought the wooly-hatted ex-Monkey could write as well as this… taken from his 1977’s From A Radio Engine To A Photon Wing, this track was UK hit and the film-like quality of the video played an important role in the burgeoning development of the entire genre.
11) Sparks – The Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us… the Mael Brothers unleashed this on an unsuspecting public, from its first radio airings, yet another what the fxxk is that moment – plus, its final quasi-operatic crescendo leads perfectly into…
12) King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King… immense mellotron-led chordal sweeps and colossal drums over improbable Tolkein-esque Pete Sinfield lyrics. The first time on hearing this led to many a loon-pant-shaking, disbelief moment… where did that come from..? Late sixties and, quite simply, this broke new ground like a melodious jack-hammer.
13) Wally Badarou – The Theme From Countryman… synthesizer driven, rumbling beats over an understated but delicious keyboard wash… the French whizz at his very best as Countryman runs at warp speed through various scenic parts of Jamaica, intent on nailing the baddies by utilizing his mystic powers. The film was so-so, the soundtrack was awesome and the theme pivotal.
14) Bob Dylan – Forever Young… from Planet Waves, one of only two Dylan albums released by Island, a timeless classic.
15) Robert Palmer – Every Kinda People… the many moods and faces of the late and very great Captain Birds Eye; if one and one only track was to be included this’d be high on anyone’s list. This cut from Double Fun – immortalized with the two wet bikini-tops discarded on the swimming pool edge under Robert’s watchful smiling gaze on the cover – bridges the gap of funk and high end melody with strings that are sublime.
16) Murray Head – Say It Ain’t So, Joe… nowadays acknowledged as a classic, at the time, the epitome of a mysterious non-hit… radio just wouldn’t play it back then but, it still sounds like it was recorded yesterday.
17) King Sunny Ade – Jah Funmi… for many, this opening cut from JuJu Music was their first introduction to the true aural delights of African music… swaying and liltingly haunting, the steel guitar / synthesizer combinations are to die for.
18) Bob & Earl – Harlem Shuffle
… a stone-ground classic of course, it set the tone within late sixties club-land and passes the acid test many years later by remaining one of the freshest pieces of music ever recorded.
19) Augustus Pablo – King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown… yet another ‘what the fxxk is that’ piece; is it a song, is it dub, is… what the fxxk is… that? A beyond-category three and a bit minutes of totally essential and entirely indispensible music.
20) Keane – A Bad Dream… one of the unqualified highlights from the second Keane album, somewhere there has to be an extended mix (which is what I’d have wanted to include) wherein the central instrumental passage goes on for ever, just like it feels it should do on the shorter, album version.

Someone’s left a copy of a newspaper on the table next to me, the dregs of their discarded tea are growing cold and I pick it up to idle away the time over the remains of my coffee; there’s a banner headline – some top-notch club up north are planning on offering – equals paying – over 100 million quid as a transfer fee for a footballer and, according to them, it makes sound business sense…

But, that… is it not, would be the equivalent to the national debt for a small(ish) African State… and, his weekly salary is mooted to be just half a million. Not dollars or yen… but pounds sterling equals (more or less) euros.


Weekly salary..? That’d mean his yearly gross earnings would come in at 24 million… Smart accountancy fees would, of course, be really significant, his agent would cop 20 percent (or thereabouts) but even so…

One’d never – ever – begrudge someone earning their true worth but… with many parts of this country, Europe and the rest of the world either in the midst of or about to endure really severe financial pain… is that, in all reality, justifiable?

How could you – footballer X – walk out onto the field of play on any given Saturday, knowing that your net earnings for the first minute or so of any given game equated to a year’s salary for those still employed who, themselves would have paid a significant ticket price to watch you perform during the 90 minute + half-time pies match?

I dunno… I just wonder about this sort of ‘business’… do I object to people with reams of talent earning what they do… absolutely not and never ever. They’ve been blessed with something truly special – be it as a footballer, cyclist, musician, songwriter, actor, film director, entrepreneur or… whatever it is.

But… there is just a little part of me, a tiny cell within my brain saying… give back a bit. Don’t make it into a Hello magazine grand (ie empty) gesture but… just, quietly, let the ordinary man in the street know that yes… its great to be paid this or that but, at the same time, you – the high wage earner – is doing something… something… and, an enduring something… for those folk around the world who, quite frankly, have absolutely zero.

When one has had some form of a lucky life; when one has done (or been paid to do) some incredible things… isn’t it about admitting that luck, that that talent that’s been paid and… giving back… a bit…?

In a sense, this is what Project X is about.

The core principle that underlines what is otherwise known as Project X is this… the world is very, very different to how it was when my co-conspirators and I began work… very different indeed. Nowadays, one needs all manner of qualifications in gobbledygook, A-Levels in bullshit and degrees in corporate-speak and all the rest to even get your toe in the door.

We didn’t have any of that… all we did was collect records… it was as if our very lives depended on it… Music was a strange centrifugal source that informed our daily lives; we lived it, we ate it on toast, we breathed it. It mattered so much that somehow or other we ended up working within it.

None of us has any money… not a bloody bean… but, we retain that same vision if you like… One of my co-conspirators lives far away and is currently acting as a check in bloke for an RV sort of convention… to pay the rent; our web-meister is about to tell one of his clients (of over twenty-five years standing) to have sex and travel – because they’ve become unutterably unreasonable that he’d rather get rid of them before they go bust in the so-called ‘credit-crunch’ and work on what he enjoys than suffer their ineptitude; another takes what work he can by framing pictures and being a navvy in order that he can devote downtime (after supporting his family) to researching and supporting like a bloody demon. Another is so budget conscious that literally every penny spent is counted – yet nothing gets in the way of pulling the whole together; and me… – near and very dear have understood, helped and supported beyond financial reason or sense. And, shown… absolute, utter faith.

Equals… Project X is informed by… its core is… total, complete… passion.

I’m a believer… and am lucky, oh so lucky… very very lucky, to have others round me who believe too.

Because – at one time or other… we were (all) lucky too. We all got, in our own ways, to work on, to be involved in… absolutely magical things.

We didn’t… none of us did… end up working down coal-mines… tho’ we easily could have.

And now, for all of us, its time to – in our own.. tiny, little way… to give back. To forthcoming generations.

Ninety minutes later, the be-spectacled one and I are standing in a doorway just a few yards from corporate HQ… he’s rolling a cigarette, I’ve popped one from my packet… silently breathing nicotine air. Both thinking back…

We’ve achieved more than I dared dream or hope… we’ve talked until we were hoarse, we have cajoled and been passionate – eyes have met eyes head on… yes we’ve been absolutely passionate in what we believe in…

And, Project X now has the implicit and unequivocal support of the IFPI.

But, not just that…

They said they couldn’t and wouldn’t fund or seed the idea… that I knew before we walked in.

But, what they now do want to do – so they’ve told us – is schedule another meeting to discuss ways in which Project X can be seeded – they see this initiative as really important and one not to be ignored. .

And, that meeting which’ll involve a lot more people around their corporate table is due to occur in about ten days time.


Anonymous said...

I lived and breathed that.

How on earth could you not do these compilations?

The one you have listed is absolutely awesome... There is a lot of music left out but, what's there makes perfect sense... I'll ask this... will you post other ideas and thoughts... please?

Who, for instance are Zappow... I've never heard of them...a group I think... however, am feeling if you've put them there... then they must be special.

Also... I saw the name Jess Roden... I don't know Bronco but... his solo work.. omg... there was a record called (I think) The Player Not The Game... quite incredible.

You know his stuff... right?

You've opened my eyes Neil... wow... thank you.

Good luck with whatever Project X is, although - I sort of have a sense of it now.


Anonymous said...

Hey neil.......Some absolute gems there. If only I was able togo to the racks and pull out the vinyl an listen to it oncemore. Sadly sold too many when I couldn't transport or afford to keep them...but at least I had them.

Good luck with it all. Breaks do happen, opportunities arise and all of a sudden present is past and future is so bright blah blah

Everything is Great.

T xx