Sunday, May 31, 2009

One Love

One love, one heart, lets get together and feel alright – Bob Marley

Baaba Maal and his musicians have all exited stage-right (or is that stage-left, I never can tell) yet the boards of the old music hall theatre known as Shepherds Bush Empire remains in semi-darkness; nor have the house lights haven’t come up as one would normally expect them to do.

The drums and all the other accoutrements that comprise the back-line is still in place as sundry stage crew scuttle and scamper about, placing chairs in different places and adjusting microphones like crews always do. One, two; one two, testing… one, two three. Back right, from where Doe Phillips, Oasis’ tour manager and I are standing, someone is assembling a set of small hand-drums on top of one of the keyboard-risers. The lights remain low.

That’s a really quick turnover intones the voice of experience in my ear, I don’t think the set is over yet… do you?
No, I don’t…
I murmur back into the leonine mane of curls standing beside me, it looks like something else is about to happen ‘cos normally the MC comes on and does his bit at this point.
Oh, you mean the big black guy with the head that looks likes its been freshly varnished. Who is he?
He’s Count Prince Miller, one of the first of the JA sound system pioneers from outta Kingston from aeons ago.
Count Prince…?
The eyebrows that belong to the mass of golden-brown tresses shoot upwards in disbelieving curiosity.
You’ve been hanging around the Gallagher brothers too long, I reckon. Its a sort of self-aggrandisement thing that they did way back when in Jamaica, a kind of self-promotion thing… my voice is drowned out as the level of hubbub around us increases several notches.

Barry Reynolds walks back on stage clutching an acoustic guitar, settles down, plugs himself in and starts gently picking out the chords to what sounds suspiciously like the opening to Redemption Song. A keyboard player wanders on and positions himself deep in the gloom of the semi-lit stage as Baaba Maal – mega-star throughout all of Africa – re-enters from our right… is that stage left… maybe it is.

Then a shout… a couple of high-pitched whistles rip through the clamour… before all-about screaming and shrieking kicks in … and then the hall absolutely erupts.

A small bloke in entirely preposterous and (to my way of thinking) totally superfluous, almost-red-but-not-quite-pink, Channel (sun?)-glasses wearing a russet coloured, black embroidered, leather jacket shambles on; his head having recently subjected itself to a fairly close farmer’s-crop. A grey-blonde tall chap follows wearing a bemused expression and a bass guitar; the elegantly angular features of another in tight black jeans walks purposely out of the shadows and up onto the keyboard riser and immediately starts tapping out a rhythm – not a man to mess about, one who prefers to get on with the job in hand. Stage left another over-sized acoustic guitar walks out wearing a tight-fitting-black-tea-cosy on his head.

By now, the packed house is going completely mental; everyone with a camera phone is holding it in the air; clicking away in the general direction of the stage, more in hope than good judgement. Auto-focus a-go-go.

I’m nudged by a cider-sipping couple to my left who seem curiously unmoved by what’s occurring just a few yards away. Who’s that? I’m asked. Who’s just come on..?
Oh… that’s U2.
he says as she intently drinks in the unfolding spectacle. Bloody hell, didn’t see that they were advertised for tonight.
Well, that’s true, they weren’t; but then again, its hardly a surprise, is it, I think to myself.

I’m remembering back to a conversation with Dennis Sheehan (their own tour manager of ultra-long service to the cause) about a month ago over lunch when he’d said, y’know, I really don’t think they’ll want to miss out on all of that – we’d been talking about the, then upcoming, Island50 celebrations – I’m sure they’ll find a way of doing… something.

The song has now identifiably turned into One with Edge and Barry trading chords as Baaba Maal and Bono embrace before trading vocal lines. Its curiously magical; a little shambolic yet – as under rehearsed as it probably is, the untidy rough edges somehow gives the tune even more resonance; a song with Africa at its core, one of the great modern day hymns – musical redemption from the pandemic of Aids throughout that nation.

The song naturally segues into a couple of choruses of One Love which, in a strange yet entirely appropriate way, seems to have become a metaphor for this entire week of shows before Baaba exits stage-right (or is that left, again); Barry and Edge shake hands and Bono asks no one in particular if there is time for one more.

As the crowd howl in unison and with an attitude of – this is our playpen now, the Irish four piece launch into a spectacularly average semi-acoustic rendition of Vertigo – for all the while sounding like a covers band attempting a tune far beyond their capabilities. It doesn’t matter; the crowd go berserk – they’ve had the treat of their lives.

The Thursday night half-time oranges beckon.

What with one thing and another, its been quite a remarkable week – watching my seedlings grow while, at the same time, stepping back in musical time.

One that has been interspersed with a series of AlphaBetaMusica appointments as well as garnering more attention to this clutch of songs in my bag. Songs that are now eliciting clear responses that undoubtedly prove I’m not the only one to hear their potential. After a fair bit of time away from the coal-face, its good to realise that one can still trust one’s ears.

Besides, with a few more doors being nudged open on my behalf by converts to the cause, being able to present what was Project-X face to face to those higher up the table than I normally sit is starting to prove its worth. Running way past their allotted time-spans has become routine for meetings as the scope of the whole is properly realised by those I’ve been facing.

Further to which, interesting sub-strategies have begun to emerge, most especially with regard to the seeding of this little blighter.

Am I going to detail any of that now – absolutely not… All I’ll say is – there is a line on the horizon; a line that’s slowly but surely coming into sharp relief.

In the midst of which, there’s also been the minor distraction of the man in the gabardine suit; is his bow-tie really a camera? Not this one – his suit was a curious shade of mauve tinged with plum… not quite blue, not really purple yet with a splash of lavender-wine, deadly nightshade thrown in for good measure… somewhere in between something and something else altogether.

The Fedora was, needles to say, worn at just the correct rake and the man’s three Coconuts looked young enough to be his daughters. Its entirely possible that at least one of them was.

Their performance – the opening set of the Island50 shows – closed with one of the big hits, Annie (I’m Not Your Daddy); the moves were as slick as ever, the band (all new bar one) had been drilled to perfection; the high-sheen of their eighties choreography morphing seamlessly into 21st century big band swagger proving great music is, indeed, timeless.

Late night and August Darnell is holding court in his dressing room on the third floor backstage at the Empire while eating a noodle and chicken takeaway; the suit in which he’s wowed the audience earlier has been carefully packed away.

The shirt on his previously sweat-soaked back has been replaced by one that’s been freshly starched; his meticulously selected tie has been tied carefully and knotted perfectly; the trousers to this particular brown suit are hoisted to precisely the correct height with a pair of discreetly patterned braces, the creases are, of course, razor sharp. His brown and cream brogues gleam from being freshly polished and the slightly larger than pork-pie sized straw hat has been tipped to an angle that can only be described as jaunty.

Darnell detects a slight movement in the doorway from out the corner of his eye and turns. Holy fxxk. Storeyville. Its been three hundred and twenty-eight years.

He gets up, wipes a overhanging noodle from his mouth with a freshly laundered handkerchief and advances, arms outstretched, grinning wildly. Damn… You look good, my man – pronouncing the word good as only a man out of Harlem by way of the Bronx can. He glances up and down. Your shoes are clean too; and that… is a very fine coat indeed. We embrace… its as if twenty-something years have passed-by in a split second.

I step into the muddled chaos of the dressing-room and find a chair, place the hat-box that’s occupying it on a window-sill and turn to face the man the world knows as Kid Creole. I was going to wear a hat but I didn’t want to upstage you. You’ve still got that ridiculous, same old pencilled-in moustache, I see… The guffaw that follows sounds like a cross between a man choking on something unpleasant caught in his oesophagus and a throaty, wheezing, chuckle. The crinkle-chip laughter lines around his eyes confirm the latter.

He’s right, it has been a long time but… no matter the years, the kinship, the solid-bond of friendship that was forged those many, many years back remains unbroken. The banter chatters back and forth like a revolving sten-gun on automatic for the next twenty minutes. Later we swap cell-‘phone numbers as his chicken and noodles lay idle and forgotten on an upturned flight-case at his knees and make loose arrangements to meet for lunch in a couple of days. Later that night I text, saying how good it was to see him and that lunch on Thursday would be a pretty beezer idea since, by then, I’d be hungry.

Thursday and I’m just out of a lengthy meeting and into the leaky cauldron known as Tottenham Court Road and a text arrives on my ‘phone. Storeyville, can’t do lunch today, have to go up North (Manchester Liverpool) to trim my moustache. Call you when I return. Great to see c ya again. We need 248 hours to catch up! X. No matter, time to head off to Kensington anyway, I’m in as urgent need of an internet café as a man with an upset stomach is of a public convenience.

Outside in the bright afternoon sun, a gleaming black car-front with what looks like some kind of customised extension behind pulls up; a vehicle that began life as a Mini but which has evidently been elongated – it probably has a name but, not being car minded, I’ve no clue as to the exact marquee. The man who steps out, ignores the nearby parking meter and wanders unconcernedly into the reception area and tosses something resembling a car-key onto the table.

CB, who began Island life out of the back of his Mini Cooper and without whom this whole Island50 thing wouldn’t have come about isn’t someone who much bothers with parking meters. I can’t imagine its because he knows someone else will look after something that mundane, I rather think that its just because parking meters are way off his radar. He greets everyone in sight with a smile and a handshake, asking opinions of the previous evening’s event.

I’d only gone down to that particular show only to see Steel Pulse – not, I admit, being much interested in The Fratellis. Overrunning somewhat after another late afternoon meeting, a message had been left that my ticket was to be collected. No problem, been used to this for many years and the routine is always the same. Stride manfully up to the necessary window, give over one’s name, smile nicely and… all is well in the world. But not this time, drat and double that – no mention of my name on any guest list, no ticket in an envelope squirreled away behind the grill at all. Drat and then some.

I stand and ponder… and, mid-ponder in marches Mark Ellen, the Word magazine’s editor and dead-ringer for the Beatle that plays his bass guitar left-handed. We exchange greetings and after a rapid explanation that no one can find my ticket, I take up his offer of being his plus-one for the evening and we head for the bar. Ten minutes later and a rumble of bass-thunder announces that Steel Pulse are taking the stage; we take up our pints and walk the walk.

An hour later and there’s a slight sense of musical let-down; they were good but not great. David Hinds – the only surviving front-man had not (in our combined view) got the set right at all – too much from unknown recent work when (we reckoned) most of the assembled would have wanted (like us) to have been treated to songs from the earlier Island outings. True, the mighty Handsworth Revolution got aired but too many crucial cuts from their illustrious back-catalogue such as Klu Klux Klan and Tribute To The Martyrs were confined to the past that night.

That said, the band were as tight as a tick and David, himself, looked quite extraordinary – clad in raiment that would have suited Joseph down to a tee, this predominantly purple and silver striped coat of many colours was floor length and bottomed out with impeccably-shone black shoes – not for him Rasta-foot-wear. His locks were completely another thing altogether.

From times past, David’s locks tended to grow straight up… which always struck me as being particularly uncomfortable having that weight of hair vertically ascending from one’s head. Indeed, Tony the Greek tells a story of transporting him to a radio interview one time and having to open his car’s sunroof in order to more properly accommodate David’s up-standing locks. Rasta ina Red Cortina-styleee.

Time has seen that gravity has had it’s pull and David’s locks now more resemble tree trunks sprouting out of the top and sides of his head, cascading down like so much Bonsai root-formation. In fact, throughout the week, locks of varying length and wonder have been on display… hey, this is Island50 – what did you expect? Night one and man about Ladbroke Grove, Don Letts is standing at the barrier, hailing anyone and everyone in sight; his have been unfurled from his outsized-cap that he wore at the Portland Place party and, fluttering in the night air, reach almost to his ankles now.

Ahh yes, that first evening… after the aforementioned break, Sly & Robbie fronted up the Taxi Gang or Compass Point All Stars (take your pick, both bands were pretty much identical) and showed the world how to dub-it-up rub-a-dub style on stage. The sound was, in a single word, enormous; rhythm metronomic with horn-stabs and clattering percussion competing in echoes. They took the likes of Black Uhuru’s Shine Eye Gal and eviscerated it, turned it on its head and then, Frankenstein-like re-assembled it before one’s very eyes like a dub-master class.

With no let-up, Aswad came on and mashed it up yet again with a trilogy of hits before Brinsley led out the I-Threes; Rita Marley as Queen of Reggae in the obligatory ball-gown of red, gold and green, a statuesque Marcia Griffiths at her far-side and new I-Three Erica Newell more soberly clad on the other. With Brins taking Bob’s own role, it was like going back in time with the I-Threes’ call and response to their leader; One Love sounding as sweet as ever it did.

A brief pause before something called Tinchy Stryder takes the stage – apparently he’s at the forefront of a musical genre called ‘grime’. Thirty seconds of grunt-rapping and my nicotine habit was badly in need of a fix. Outside in the cooling air, there are three blokes by the barrier, with a sizeable spliff on the go; it appears that they too are not much enamoured by Mr Stryder and his bought-at-Woolworths attitude-rap either.

Then came Grace. Its highly probable that everyone in attendance knew that Miss Jones was going to appear in a costume that would, quite literally, pale everyone else’s into insignificance. Perhaps that’s why Darnell had opted for the plum-purple gabardine; maybe that’s why Rita had gone for the Rasta infused ball-gown. The bar was set to Olympic heights and Grace absolutely did not disappoint.

How do you describe legs long enough to walk over the Great Wall of China, topped with a bottom-less black leotard, above which the giraffe-like neck; her heavily mascara’d eyes masked by a sequined eye-mask above which came… what looked to all intents and purposes like a black feathered mushroom… worn upside down. Grace looked like she was off to Ascot… but not necessarily the Ascot that the anointed Queen attends.

The obligatory Pull Up To The Bumper, a good deal of buttock-wriggling for the happy-snappers in the front rows and another few choruses of One Love and that was it. But it wasn’t really – that was just the end of one night; the Thursday was capped off by the appearance of one of Island’s pillars; one of the four musical cornerstones. If its true (and why wouldn’t it be) to cite Bob Marley, U2 and Steve Winwood as keystones then the fourth has to be Cat Stevens.

To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect… I suppose I imagined him to sit there, strum his guitar, look at his feet and sing his songs. Dunno why I imagined that sort of performance given his pedigree but, maybe because of the whole embracing of Islam and the long-past ending of his having anything to do with his alter-ego, Cat Stevens.

How utterly wrong one can be.

From the moment he walked on stage he exuded presence by the bucket load. His band were nothing less than masterful, sporting one of the best keyboard players I’ve ever come across and, alongside long-time collaborator Allun Davies, Eric Appapoulay on slide guitar, first encountered when he played guitar in a former client of mine’s band… and boy, can he play.

The sound was exquisite; the arrangements were to die for and the voice… oh my Lord, that voice. Yeah, ok… and the songs aren’t half bad either.

It wasn’t one of those greatest hits nights – much as probably most of the hall wished for; there was a very fair smattering of old material in amongst the newer stuff but, above all the one thing that stood out was the in-between songs chat. This was clearly a man at ease with himself, at ease in his surroundings and very, very much at ease with his quite extraordinary body of work.

Cat Stevens, Yusuf Islam – call him how you will. Try also – funny bloke with a great line in self-deprecating humour.

Midway through the set, Cat / Yusuf announces that his two young grandchildren are in the audience. He stands there, staring out into the darkness and eventually sees where they are on the balcony. He does the ‘hello, grandchildren’ bit and blows them an amplified kiss. All really rather sweet. Moments later, as he’s picking out the start of the next tune – appropriately his stone-ground classic, Where Do The Children Play – a piercing two-year old voice cuts through the acoustic strum… Grandpa… Grandpa… I can see you…

A rare privilege to have been there.

Friday morning and its back into work-mode… yet its hardly as if I’ve been out of that modus-operandi for goodness knows how long. The Steel Pulse night had elicited one further piece of good ABM fortune; as their set ended, Mark Ellen and I started to walk up the aisle toward the bar but were stopped by a hazily remembered face.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, a vaguely familiar face has suggested that they know me. And, this time around, Mark as well. We introduce ourselves and he does the same… we all do know one another; its Mykaell Riley one of the co-founders of Steel Pulse. Mark starts talking about an NME cover story that he conducted for the band way back when but, its unclear if Mykaell has perfect recall of that event.

More recently, however, and for quite a while now, Mykaell has been one of the leading lecturers to students on popular music studies. Indeed, he’s someone I’ve been trying to track down for the last few months yet, for whatever reasons, have met brick wall after dead end. Now we’re standing face to face. As Mark heads toward the bar, Mykaell and I swop contact details and I pass on a few choice tidbits about ABM.

Friday early morning and the e-mail pops up… he’s had a good look through everything to do with ABM and… when can we meet, this is right up my alley. An hour later and yet another incoming ‘phone call from a publisher I’ve been wanting to hook up with concerning these songs that are burning a hole in my pocket. Appointments are made in amongst the many others already in the diary and...

Next week looks like being really rather busy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Trench Town Rock (12" extended mix)

The bigger labels are supermarkets, I like to think of Island as a very classy delicatessen. Chris Blackwell.

It’s like walking straight into a sonic explosion, somewhere deep in the heartland of Kingston’s underbelly.

Dub-fire bass-lines throb through the room like a heat-seeking nuclear missile-strike. The depth-charge echo of a far-away guitar ricochets from the ceiling as the forked-lightning of a disembodied high-hat matched to an off-beat kick-drum scythes from wall to wall before rebounding in a welter of ghostly, synchronised, recoil.

The volume control that’s calibrated to ten has clearly been set at twelve. The cat in the hat, who’s setting these controls for the heart of this sun – Natty Dread – nods his flowing locks in satisfaction; his deftness on the decks is disembowelling music into a whole new art form.

It’s a little before the witching hour and, clearly, the night – this night – is still young. Fast backwards.

The emporium into which I’ve entered promises me a wi-fi connection. I know this because there is a sign on the door proclaiming precisely that in very large letters. A frothing mug of cappuccino is procured, the laptop is plugged into the mains and fired up – emails need to be written and sent and, like anyone else on the move in a 21st century metropolis, I’m ready to roll. Or so I imagined.

Ninety minutes later and with everything written and my second coffee drained, I’m poised, ready to connect through the promised wi-fi, up into the ether and out onto the glories of the wild west wait. Oh my, I love all of this technology, don’t you… No wires – just fresh air.

All of the right buttons pulse and glow, launching satisfying arrays of miniscule emerald green lights, welcome screens fire up and… off we go.

No we bloody well don’t.

Quick as the proverbial flash, another screen pops up asking me to register with this, put card details into that, sign up with the other and check all manner of disclaimer boxes above which the typeface is so small that I wouldn’t have a clue as to what I was actually saying yes (or no) to.

All I want to do is send off everything that I’ve been writing and get on with my day but I’m being assaulted by a five bar(red) gate that will only offer the privilege of opening up if I shove plastic cash at it. The mail I want to send will take milliseconds to fire off; equals this is nothing other than daylight robbery. Using the analogy of what is now termed as snail-mail, this’d be the equivalent of any government run institution charging three or more dollars / pounds / euros to send a single letter.

Bollox to all of that – the sign on this emporium’s front door is misleading to say the least.

Thirty minutes and one ‘phone call later, I’m trudging up the stairs to Coalition’s offices – with the PR side now a memory, there are free desks a-plenty and, yes do come in and do what you need to here. An hour or so later and I’ve got all I needed to be done plus a whole heap more.

Neilo… Tina (Rob’s widow – and how sad is it to use that word) is standing on a chair, watering a straggling plant by the window, absent-mindedly plucking off some of its withered leaves. Why don’t we go and have a pizza first, then we can go off together and be really fashionably late?

Two hours later than our invitations state, we’re wandering the length of Poland Street. There it is… it must be. Mustn’t it? Look, there’s loads of photographers… I wonder who they’re waiting for? Tina’s arm links through mine; six months on, she’s still getting used to going to things like this without Rob – the epitome of a couple; their lives inexorably inter-twined having achieved the perfect balance of togetherness without being permanently joined at the hip.

I glance ahead. Gotta be it… you can almost smell the music industry gathering.

Our invitations are scanned, we’re given the once over by an over-sized bully in a tight-fitting suit that barely disguises his muscle-bulk and in we go. Thirty seconds later I’ve a pair of arms around my neck, being pinioned in some kind of mad, backwards bear hug. My name is screamed into my ear.

Its Brinsley Forde from Aswad; a group first encountered when they were but a bunch of musically gifted hooligans from Ladbroke Grove and now recognised as some of Reggae’s elder statesmen. Nothing was safe at St Peter’s Square back in the day when these teenage dreadlocks were in the building; it wasn’t uncommon to come in the morning after they’d been recording down in the basement studios to find not only most of the promotional vinyl gone but entire office hi-fi systems missing as well.

Nowadays, Brins hangs his hat in the warmer climes of the Canary Islands, is back and forth to Jamaica, London and elsewhere working on a number of album projects. We swap tales of suitcase living as a pair of grizzled dreads that constitute a percentage of Steel Pulse hang around the background.

Jon Turner, Island’s current marketing director stretches out his hand. Great to see you, come in for a coffee and a chat? Stiff co-founder Dave Robinson wanders by offering a quick, Call me, lets meet for a coffee; the legend in his own lunchtime that is John (Knocker) Knowles – one of my earliest bosses when Island’s sales force was in full cry – proffers and affectionate but bristle-bearded kiss on my cheek. You look well, Cory – been ill or somewhere nice? Give me a call, come in and have a coffee. You goin' downstairs..? Its fucking loud, PJ Harvey’s just come on and she’s heavier than Zeppelin. Knocker grimaces and plods off into the night.

Crikey, if I took up all these offers of coffee, I’d astral project. And Polly Harvey – another eeek, musically somewhat of an acquired taste and a fair ways from mine. Tina and I meander down the stairs to be met by a barrage of discordal noise. Blackwell said once that PJ had wanted to sign to Island because of Tom Waits – that’s all very well, but while Tom’s music is also something of an acquired taste, at least he has amazing songs.

Immediately to our left, pinioned to a side wall by this sonic bombardment, stands the ramrod-straight back of Captain Bill, more properly addressed as Nick Stewart, the man who signed U2 to the label. He’s alongside their perfectly suited and tied, (though, nowadays somewhat portly and slightly sweating) manager, Paul McGuinness. He’s keeping a watchful eye on his other charge – Polly Harvey… this, obviously, isn’t the time to offer up any opinion of her ‘music’.

Besides, conversation is pointless – we mouth smiled greetings at one another.

One song later and PJ’s primeval feedback howl and I aren’t getting along terribly well; time to move on – the over-populated bar is over there in the gloom… and, mercifully, it’s a bit further away from the cranked up PA system.

More and more handshakes and hugs; people I know, people I think I recognise, people I should but don’t, this is through the past darkly.

Fruit-juice in hand I wander along a darkened corridor destination the exhibit proper and slow-motion stumble over a trailing wire and straight into a slightly stooping grey-bearded figure who has a young lady in full-throttle Muslim attire on his arm.

Drat… how am I nowadays meant to address Yusuf Cat Islam Stevens… the Tillerman clearly doesn’t recognise me – hardly surprising since we’re peering at each other through shadow and haven’t clapped eyes upon one another in more than a quarter of a century. Nevertheless, honour is satisfied on each side with an exchange of smiles with both of us saying, I’m so sorry at the same time. Last thing I need right now – with AlphaBetaMusica rolling along as nicely as it is – is a fatwah being issued.

Osama Bin Lowrey is standing nearby; his current beard would worry the hell out of immigration staff at airports the world over. You need to be a bit more careful, man – Phil’s small dark eyes crinkle laughter-chips in amongst his mass of carefully sculpted grey-white facial hair; you can take a Geordie out of Newcastle, but you can never take the accent away.

Tina comes to my rescue; did you just bump into who I think that was..? Ohhh, Neilo…look, that’s your handwriting… wow… Look at that. We’re now standing at the entrance to the exhibit proper and, blown up to about ten feet in height is a U2 guest list from a show at The Clarendon, a west London venue that most probably doesn’t exist any longer. An upstairs room that sported a small stage that’s a far cry from the enorma-domes they nowadays frequent with attendant guest-lists that constitute small novels.

This one is dated March 1980… and yes, its typed out from the days when we’d just got golf-ball typewriters in the Press Office, long before wi-bloody-fi laptops had been invented. And yes, that looks suspiciously like my scribble across it.

An interesting relic – because, quite a few names have been left untouched on the list, designating them as among quite a few no-shows that particular night. One such being a certain Chris Blackwell + 1; his first U2 show came a bit later on; at a pub in Herne Hill, the same hot night that Bob Marley had headlined his last ever UK show at Crystal Palace Bowl on a glorious summer’s afternoon.

The centrepiece of this, main, exhibition room is one of the Trabants that were suspended high above the stage on the tour that followed the release of the Achtung Baby record. There is a cameraman on the outside and the presenter is struggling to get comfortable inside before voicing her piece to camera. As much as she’s having her own difficulties getting into the vehicle, one can’t help but wonder how Adrian Boot (who curated all of this) and his merry team of pranksters got the bloody thing inside in the first place.

Behind a Perspex wall are amassed dozens and dozens of wide-ranging artefacts; stuff – for want of a better word – that illustrates Island’s rich history from way back then to nowadays. It is widespread indeed and arranged more or less chronologically: from a blown up memo from CB himself to the five members of Spooky Tooth that informs them that while they’re all on weekly retainers of 30 pounds each, they’ll each be fined 10 pounds for any no-shows at forthcoming gigs via Nick Drake’s guitar to a drum used by Tom Tom Club. Tina and I wander around staring through the glass accompanied by the even-later arriving Guardian's Robin Denselow.

There are a few silkened tour jackets which were all the rage in the seventies; PJ Harvey has donated a dress worn on stage that hangs beside a pair of what look suspiciously like Edge’s flared and sequined trousers worn on… now, which tour would that have been? Would it have involved a Lemon I wonder?

There is the expected glut of concert tickets and back stage passes from the well-known bands or artists; a set of Island promotional playing cards is artfully displayed; a Bad Company sweat-shirt; lots of old yellowing contracts; company’s incorporation papers; a few original reel-to-reel tapes including one of Mille’s album; an Island clock, a fair smattering of Spencer Davis Group memorabilia; a Steve Winwood and Tony Hutcheson signed print of the original artwork for Steve’s first solo record; displays of seven inch singles on the Black Swan label as well as a number of the different imprint variants of the original Island pink label; a set of Bob Marley stamps issued in Jamaica to commemorate his passing; a very fair smattering of original album covers as well as loads of other fascinating ‘stuff’ but, as with all things, there is a fair amount of ‘stuff’ – rare as hen’s teeth ‘stuff’ – that’s not represented.

Noting that – by the way – is by no means any intended criticism or slight; far from it. It’s a remarkable collection of objets d'art.

However, it’s also a slight pity that its been laid out as it has been with barely any captioning. It could, of course, be argued that little needs captioning – a Bob Marley tour pass is, for example, date specific.

Nonetheless, this Voltaire would argue that all of this ‘stuff’ is of major social – and educational – significance and, as such, it would have been worthwhile to have properly captioned more than has been. Indeed, doing so would - according to this Voltaire - have made for a much more interesting and informative experience for the casual passer-by, interested bystander or student of music.

On another wall hang a wide range of magazine and news periodical’s front covers featuring Island acts. This, very sadly, demonstrates that Island’s own archive must be in terrible shape – for why..? Well, because there are so many of true importance that are quite simply missing.

For instance (and this is just a random observation), the week Bob Marley died, three of the four – what we called, inkies (the weekly music papers) – changed their planned front covers to portraits of Bob.

As an aside here, the Melody Maker didn’t – and that is to their eternal shame; they’d done a deal with Virgin to send journalist X and photographer Y to some far-flung place in exchange for XTC being that week’s cover feature. Rob took great delight in bunching up that weeks edition and kicking it, forcefully, around the office. Below a wonderful Adrian Boot portrait of a long-locked Bob, the NME’s caption was both simple and moving: The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

To my way of thinking, its almost criminal that none are featured. Nor indeed, are any of the very early U2 front covers; Grace Jones and others from the Face Magazine; Kid Creole in the Telegraph colour supplement – these are just arbitrary examples but… within Island’s history, these were major moments in the breaking of these acts. Further to which, every single one was framed… all of which begs the question – where are they now? Or… did someone without a real depth of knowledge assemble this particular part of the exhibit? That hardly seems likely, given Boot’s lengthy association with Island… which leads me to think rather a lot has been lost to the mists of time. Big shame.

Dotted around are numerous other pieces of either artwork or sleeve images or black and white and colour photographs of acts signed to the label. Many have never been seen before while as many are iconic images from this trawl through a musical time. Fabulous stuff indeed.

Unfortunately, once again, a large degree of captioning just isn’t there (that I could see, anyway) – for instance, I spotted an outtake from (probably) the first ever Jess Roden Band photo-session yet, from what I could see and unless one knew who the band actually were, you’d look at the image and wander away clueless as to who was actually portrayed. Similarly, the four Tony Wright variants on Winwood’s Arc Of A Diver sleeve are grouped together – yet, its just those four (albeit beautiful) images that are displayed.

Every picture tells a story – from this particular grassy knoll, it’s a crying shame that the story’s not been told here.

Closing time; the be-suited bullies are rounding us stragglers up and we’re unceremoniously herded outside. The gaggle of photographers are still milling about but, by now, their intended quarries will have long gone… a small group of us, led by Ted Cummings, pr bloke-of-the-moment, head for the pub up the road; thirsty work this exhibition-going and a bracer is needed before we all hit Portland Street where the party out of bounds is already underway.

Mojo’s editor Phil Alexander and I discuss the inside tale of their recent cover-mount CD compilation – he offers a fascinating insight (which I’m not about to detail here) and we arrange to meet again to talk through a few other things before, once more, closing time is called and we end up trolling along together – towed by the tireless, BlackBerry wielding, Cummings – across Oxford Street and toward Portland Place.

One more time, darkened-windowed limos are lined up alongside the pavement, the phalanx of photographers are in-situ, there are barriers everywhere, more be-suited bullies man the door and girls in mini-dresses and luminous lipstick begin the process of checking our names against their clip-boards and our tickets. Gaining access to Fort Knox is probably less stressful.

Eventually we are allowed in, though with such security diligence being afforded us, it is mildly surprising that no one has been strip-searched.

The mass of humanity inside is like entering a surreal kip of the serenes rugby scrum; was that really Pete ‘18 With A Bullet’ Wingfield, walking past with his now-grey beard… how would I recognise a Dr Strangeley Strange, an Amazing Blondel or a Fratelli for that matter… in amongst this mish-mash of grey-haired fogies, little black dresses and an abundance of dreads are hundreds of early-twenties, elegantly windswept, coiffed hairdo’s; its difficult to tell who’s who or what's what.

Such is the scrimmage that, unless you’re close up to someone, reach out, grab and miss and the moment’s gone. Barry Reynolds and I get set upon by an overly protective bouncer as we try to swap ‘phone numbers in the hallway. Mim Scala who I’d really been looking forward to seeing, scurries by but someone gets in the way, balancing a tray of drinks and contact is lost.

Lucky Gordon is holding court upstairs; he came to the nations attention when outed as Christine Keeler’s pimp in the Profumo affair, the scandal that brought down the Tory government in the fifties. He was also, for quite a long time, a cook at St Peters Square.

Lucky had plans for Rob and I to write his cookbook of jealously guarded recipes for him. That all came to a bit of a sticky end when, one evening hanging about in our press office lair, he demanded money (without menaces) from us for what he considered the privilege of writing his cookbook for him. Lucky, it’s the other way around, you’d need to pay us to write it for you, Rob told him. Ras-clat, you no understand, countered Lucky. These are my recipes. You two g’wan pay I. Lucky’s reputation preceded him; he wasn’t really a man to argue with and whether he still packed a gun was open to debate but his hard-man reputation was very real.

Spread over three floors and across vast acres of prime London real estate, by way of Island ‘events’ attended over the years, this has to be unique since there is one thing missing; the heady smell of ganga smoke hanging in the air. A sign of the times of course.

However, as I discover after wandering about for a bit, the smoke-rebels have been catered for… The sign saying smoking is arrowed as being downstairs and out into a basement area with a clear view of the sky. Why did I ever doubt that this particular facility would not have been thought of.

And, quite needless to say, this little part of the ‘party’ is holding court to so many people that it more resembles a Tokyo subway-station at rush hour. Even if you don’t smoke, you can’t help but get (ever so slightly) stoned.

Brinsley is there swapping cell-phone numbers with a leggy blonde, Chris Salaweicz (who edited the about-to-come-out Island book) is in the corner deep in conversation with former NME editor Neil Spencer; friends are calling other friends on cell-phones to tell them in which part of the building they are as a lady, some six feet away starts mouthing at me… I vaguely recognise her; no more. She barges her way toward me, spilling rum punch everywhere.

Over the hubbub of idle chatter near at hand, she yells I know you into my ear. You do…? I counter. Yes… I’m Eve… and I know you. Ahh… I’m struggling a bit here, the face is vaguely familiar but that’s about it. Yes, she says, you know my Mum too. And, I’ve been to your house. That takes me aback – blimey, what’s her next revelation going to be?

She takes another sip of her rum punch. I’ve had eight of these already, they’re rather good, she tells me. If she’s had eight of ‘em I’m a trifle surprised she’s still upright but, a bit like a runaway train, she carries on regardless. My Mum’s Anna Capaldi… and I’m Eve. The penny is slowly dropping into the slot machine of memory. Gotcha – there aren’t that many people who’ve had a song written about them who I have met before.

Then something else registers. This particular Eve has been to my house… back in the day when she was newly-married to the fiddling fiend Kennedy who I was managing; during the period when Nigel had decided – all Pavarotti-like – that he only wanted to be known by his surname.

Nige was – at that juncture – in Transylvania as we were involved in making a South Bank Show documentary. All was going swimmingly until Nige crashed the film-crew’s hired car into the border barricades that separated the land of Vlad The Impaler from Romania (I think). It transpired that he then decided to empty his bladder all over the offending barricade that had halted onward progress.

This didn’t exactly impress the officials who promptly surrounded him brandishing loaded machine guns, arrested him and threw him in jail.

Artists’ managers are responsible for many things – the normal such as negotiating contracts and the abnormal – such as getting one’s client out of clink. Time to call the British Ambassador.

Finding an unlisted number in Romania in the middle of the night was, I admit, a trifle tricky but, find it I did. The Ambassador – whose name was Ivor and who was possessed of the most sing-song Welsh valleys voice I’ve ever heard – was unflappable charm and courtesy itself. Five hours after the first call had been made, a few strings had been pulled and the fiddler had been released.

The next again day, Nige is on the ‘phone. Oi, Badger – that being his usual greeting. Thanks for getting me out mate but… I’m not impressed y’know. Why…I query… whats gone wrong now..? The prison was fine but you know I have to have synthetic pillows ‘cos of me allergies. And, I was a bit surprised that you hadn’t sorted that out for me.

Less than a year later, I’d had enough – fiddling genius he certainly is but… everyone has their limits and mine were reached not long after he demanded that a grand piano be put into his suite in his Malvern Hotel. Normally not a problem – it was always part of his ‘rider’ when travelling. This time, it was a bit of an issue since he and Eve (who’s standing beside me) are in the midst of parting; equals he’s moved into the best hotel in the neighbourhood and the manager of said hotel is doing his utmost to be as accommodating to his new resident as best he can…

The only problem is the hotel have to hire a crane to lift the hired grand-piano in through his bedroom window which they have to take out in order to get said piano indoors…

That, so he informs me, is not too problematic – it can all be achieved in the morning but Nige is causing a bit of a fuss. He wants it done… now; the morning is inconvenient as that’s when he practices. And, once again, it’s the middle of the night.

Yes, he was a bit unreasonable wasn’t he, suggests Eve. Mind you, we were both control freaks. Did you really fire him? I nod. I'm not that surprised... Mind you, he always said nice things about you. Hang on, I’ll be back shortly, I’m just going to go and get another of these rum punches… do you want one? I decline.

I hang about a bit longer and then decide that I’d be better pottering off into the night rather than hanging in and aiming for the breakfast that’s due to be served at six a.m.

Besides, tomorrow’s another day. While Island life was a way of life, I’ve recently planted two seeds in my own work-garden and they’ll need tending.

One will shortly bloom, the other is just starting to come into bud. Both are evergreens.

Later still the self-same-night: I can hear the sound of a nightingale singing; its Bob Marley singing Nick Drake songs that have been arranged by John Martyn – Sandy Denny, Robert Palmer, Jim Capaldi and Jacob Miller are trading harmonies and in the background is Chris Wood’s ethereal saxophone and Paul Kossof’s gentle guitar fills.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cry Me A River

It is a conventional cardboard (as opposed to the more normal jewel-case) cover to a CD and is, I suspect, designed to sit within one’s own CD storage device (no, not a personal hand held device, I wittered on about them last time out).

The front displays a CD-sized image of a lot of vinyl albums racked tightly together with just their multi-coloured spines on view.

It reminds me of various book-shelves that I’ve adapted (OK, that should read fiddled-about with) over the years as well as the ones that I’ve either constructed myself – with varying levels of success – and those I’ve had purpose-built. Each variant on the theme has been crammed with many hundreds of vinyl recordings.

Oh, alright then, I'll own up – the hundreds bred a bit over the years to become thousands and despite the oh-so-fashionable change to all things digital (either compact disc or download) have travelled with me to wherever I’ve lived. And, as has been referred to more than once since I first stood up on the grassy knoll out there in the prairie, their present home is where I’m not – down in the dungeon at Merle HQ.

And much missed they all are as well.

Not least since a very fair proportion of those I have squirreled away over the years on vinyl have never been digitised.

Digitised or not, there is something quite magical about a vinyl album and its cover; yet that something isn’t quite so easy to define. People talk of the warmth of sound that is elicited from a vinyl album – perhaps its that which makes it so special. Perhaps its that tangible thing whereby one can actually hold it, something of proper size in one’s hands. Perhaps its because that was when the true art of sleeve design came into its own – designers actually having a bit of space within which to weave their own breed of creativity that, no matter how hard they’ve tried, simply doesn’t cut it when it comes to the jewel-case format.

A time when size came to matter.

Cue double albums, gatefold sleeves and special inner bags, luxurious boxed sets and one really had something of substance to gaze at, to mull over while the vinyl that its exterior contained revolved at thirty-three and a third revolutions each minute before one’s very eyes. Perhaps its because it was always a dead handy surface for constructing herbal cigarettes back in the day. Yes – there’s another pair of personal hand held devices to add to the growing list.

Over time, some (not many thank goodness) sleeves have become slightly watermarked or damaged; some from many, many years gone past show their owner’s name – when I’d write my name (albeit in small letters) on the back cover top right or left – this to identify them as mine as opposed to any of my friends when we went to early-teenage parties, clutching the newest release with which to appear ever so cool in front of girls who were growing tops to go topless in (so we hoped).

Across this phalanx of closely stacked 12-inch vinyl spines someone has Photoshop’d the image whereby the 5 and the 0 are picked out as if the sleeves, themselves have been lit up by a strong light.

A magnifying glass (actually this effect is achieved by the judicious use of two pairs of my glases) – because I’m needing to be in mega-magnification-mode – shows me the Island albums they’ve found to group together and make up this display.

A Uriah Heep album is right next to Nick Drake’s magnum opus, Bryter Layter; John Martyn’s first mono recording of London Conversation (ILP 952) rests against Tom Waits’ masterpiece, RainDogs; the double-album soundtrack to Countryman (starring… you guessed it… Countryman) with its bank of Wally Badarou propelled synth-driven mellow-moods is alongside Richard Thompson’s Henry The Human Fly – his first solo album, the sleeve photograph being shot in some baronial hall… somewhere; the first Renaissance album (ILPS 9114) bookends Third World’s, Tony Wright deigned sleeve to Journey To Addis; The In Crowd’s Man From New Guinea which probably sold in the tens as opposed to tens of thousands is in there alongside Lee Perry’s Super Ape; Mott The Hoople’s Rock & Roll Queen is nestled up close to Head Hands And Feet’s Tracks; Alan Bown’s Stretching Out with its bizarre (probably Hipgnosis-designed) black and white front cover of a man pulling his chest skin (or was it a nipple) hard is there as are records by Marianne Faithfull and Vinegar Joe.

Luther Grosvenor’s Under Open Skies – again, hardly a best seller, is there alongside the Jess Roden fronted, Doors minus Morrison, The Butts Band’s Blue Thumb release, that particular cover depicting one of those Fender amplifier / four-speaker combinations so beloved of road-crews from the late sixties / early seventies. Eddie and the Hot Rods Teenage Depression featuring a sleeve with someone putting a gun to his head snuggles up to an Emerson Lake & Palmer album; and there’s Jimmy Cliff’s Goodbye Yesterday – but, I wonder, is that the original sleeve, the cover that was almost cloth like in texture?

There’s another Marianne and Nick Drake record further along the line, Inner Circle’s Everything Is Great is in there, Mountain’s Nantucket Sleighride and Roxy Music’s Stranded compete for space with Paul Weller’s Modern Classics, Sheep On Drugs and Keane albums – the new(er) Island as opposed to when CB was at the helm.

Robert Palmer’s Sneakin’ Sally – with the sleeve shot at the entrance to the tunnel that leads to Heathrow Airport, backlit by the twin-headlights of a Rolls (I think) – I really should know that as I wrote about some of these covers for a book that was published in the late Nineties that contained a few choice pieces of Island poster art. Looking back, that really was a great sleeve – one for the connoisseur.

The second Traffic album is represented too – this must be an original as the catalogue number which carries a capital T after the index number is plain to see; the original sleeve had a four-page, stapled in insert filled with grainy black and white images shot up on the Berkshire Downs (the White Horse at Uffington for completists) fronted by Gered Mankowitz’s studio portrait that would have been taken in his Mason’s Yard studio; the very same studio in which his legendary portraits that became defining images of Hendrix were taken.

Oh and look… there is the Kid Creole, Fresh Fruit album – licensed in from ZE Records this was the zoot-suited one’s calling card; floating back through the night from New York, I played its final cut – Dear Addy – over and over again as the dawn rose. From that day to this, cemented into a top twenty position on the all-time Storey juke-box. Back then, not just the only person on the ‘plane with a copy but about to land at Heathrow and be (for a short while) the only person in Britain with a pre-release cassette tape of it.

Fairport Convention’s Angel Delight is there – I wonder if this, too, is an original since the very first copies had a stuck-on image of the band as it was at that time; Jim Capaldi’s Oh How We Danced is there as well – though that was never a record to much trouble the compiler’s of the charts – those were the days when solo albums by band members were almost de rigeur… and, in amongst all of the others there looks to be a little gem that I’ve not come across before entitled The Island Scene… I wonder what that was or is? Perhaps a compilation from… hmmm… methinks that might be some Euro compilation because it certainly isn’t in any of my (as near as dammit definitive) lists that I’ve compiled over the last few months.

Below, it says, off-grey-back on white, A celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of Island Records. Inside, there is (predictably) no CD at all but another wedge of cardboard on one side bearing the message: Island Records and Chris Blackwell would like to invite you (in this instance, that means me) to the launch of Island Life. A celebration to mark etc etc on Wednesday 20th May at 10.30pm.

Entry to the holy of holies is, so it says, strictly via this invitation which, in turn, is absolutely non-transferable. Nor can I bring a plus-one, the music industry’s obligatory arm-on-one’s-arm manner of referring to one’s guest be they partner, wife, husband, live-in lover, concubine, rent-boy rented especially for the evening, gigolo, high-profile colleague (male or female), associate, co-worker or even ex-lover.

I wonder who’ll be there?

Prior to which, I’ve got a day of advancing AlphaBetaMusica to be getting on with interspersed with pulling together further meetings on behalf of my newest recruit… whose music – if yesterday was anything to go by – is falling on the exact opposite of deaf ears.

What with one thing and another, all really rather encouraging.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Garvey's Ghost

Back in the day, when a lady made a purchase to the value of X from Estée Lauder’s cosmetic range, then self-same lady would be given a bit of a goody-bag. And in that bag would be all manner of differing cosmetics though none would match anything from the original purchase range.

Estée Lauder’s thinking being, even though you’ve bought X & Y from my range Z, I’ll give you something from A or B that, maybe, you wouldn’t otherwise have considered and… you never know, you may like that too.

After the venerable lady of all things make-up popped her last application of eye-liner, things changed substantially whereby the massed ranks of executives gathered around her boardroom table opted for a different strategy. Purchase X or Y and you’d still get your goody bag… but… this time around, it would only include additional items from range Z.

In other words, instead of taking a bit of a punt with their punters, they went for the soft option and decided to do all of their customer’s thinking for them.

This all probably begs the question – what the fxxk are you wittering on about now, Storey? What the hell do you know about make-up?

Actually, not that much as it happens other than one thing – it always but always takes the lady of the house a good thirty minutes longer (minimum) to apply the requisite creams, mysterious ointments, assorted layers of eye-shadow, diverse coatings of lip-gloss, sundry strata of foundation and all the rest than they’ll say it will. Equals – if you’re due out the door at (say) 7.00pm its generally wise to tell one’s lady-love that it’s a 6.30 departure.

You may have to employ a bit of guile here because once you’re rumbled all hell could (and will) break loose. However, subtle employment of this ruse will mean that – even though they’ll still generally be late – you’ll get to leave more or less on time.

Anyhow… learning of Estée Lauder’s original wheeze brought to mind those compilations from quite a few years ago – the truly great ones whose offerings from a familiar drew one in to their comfort zone but, because they were encouragingly priced at a not too trouser lightening amount, that mean that the musical adventure into the unknown for artists not necessarily on the immediate radar didn’t exactly equate to a journey to the centre of the earth.

1968’s The Rock Machine Turns You On and its same-year successor were the first two serious contenders that I came across and introduced my willing mind and eager friends to all manner of previously unheard delights: Leonard Cohen, Tim Rose, Electric Flag, The United States of America (and their seminal I Wouldn’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You), Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera, Spirit, Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper’s Super Session – oh how we dreamed when gathered together in my Hampshire backwater when the needle reached the start of track three side one on that, the second Rock Machine magnum opus.

Because, these were the gems that sat so neatly amongst offering from The Byrds, Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel. This is where we also discovered Big Brother and The Holding Company – who was this Janis Joplin that sang like a howling banshee..? It didn’t matter… we all went out and immediately purchased Cheap Thrill, their debut with its mind boggling comic book cover.

Since we were East of The Pecos, both of these ‘samplers’ from the far West were pioneering records – notably too because they were released by a major label that wasn’t particularly at the cutting edge – or so we all thought… Its only later that one realised that their A&R teams really were at the downright dirty end of the coal face.

More importantly, it introduced many to bands and artists who we (al) now acknowledge as true greats. Those two records became a ticket to a whole new world of music back in the day and… was followed by four of the best (ever) samplers made available by a skinny little record label in London – yes, the Island Records samplers.

They took that self-same template and created two single and two double albums that – as much as the Rock Machine double act did (the latter with its slightly risqué sleeve depicting all manner of – nowadays soft – images of sexual union and congress…mmmm Vicar) – still stand the test of time. Ok, and similar to the Rock Machine records, not all of the tracks hold their musical own in the new millennium but, the vast majority do.

And, of course, in this the merry month of May 2009, Island themselves are celebrating their 50th anniversary. Within which, the majority of monthly music publications have devoted acres of space to worthy tributes, their own listings of what they consider to be the finest 50 Island records through the years as well as – in the instance of the current edition of Mojo Magazine that (finally) gives cover-space to Tanworth In Arden’s finest, Nick Drake – giving away in an old school style, a 2009 Island sampler all of their own.

It’s a pity therefore – in fact, it is a true crying shame – that its such a sadly poor compilation given the rich seam of music that it could (should) have tapped in to.

Plus… it runs in at just 45 minutes and a few seconds of music.

Not only that but, its diametrically opposed to Jim Irvin’s worthy prose in praise of those four original compilations. His final headline and paragraph lauds them as Cheap Thrills – Island Samplers: a cheapo ticket to rock revolution which closed with: The samplers were compelling adverts for a company, you guessed, run by the kind of hip, unorthodox music obsessives you wanted to be. And you joined in.

But… Mojo’s compilation – fundamentally – misses the point of what those earlier Island compilations as much as the Rock Machine ones – were all about.

In all of them one found the previously known snuggling up alongside the one’s you’d never come across before. For example, Traffic became bed-mates with Nick Drake; Fairport Convention and Bronco hovered under the vinyl duvet together; Free huddled up alongside Jimmy Cliff… the list goes on.

This – entitled Island Folk isn’t the play on words one’d imagine… Far from it, in fact. It just contains the logically obvious from that small section (genre-ish) of Island’s impressive catalogue.

A totally brilliant idea to include a cover-mounted CD with this issue – there is no debate about that; just a pity it was such an own goal.

Because, it’d have been far more impressive for whoever compiled it to have really trawled through the catalogue and compiled a disc that’d have more properly represented the eclectic nature of the label as well as introduce people to some of the many hidden / long forgotten gems… as well as muddling things up a bit.

So… for what its worth, here’s my own – unasked for – compilation that, I reckon, would have got a few musical pulses racing.

Instead of calling it Island Folk – which is a pretty good title in its own right – I’ve called it Flying Without Wings – which, to me, pretty much sums up Island.

Plus, I’ve turned it into a double-CD… thirty three juicy morsels with my own notes to accompany these tasty slices that… ahhhh, go on, see what your musical tastebuds make of this:

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 own 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 meisterwerk sits faultlessly.

5. Augustus Pablo – King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown… indescribable – even today, play this to literally anyone and their jaws drop. Its reggae from outer space, nothing less. So, imagine what it was like hearing this for the first time back in the day. Unsurpassed and then some.

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 – Amber Moon… festooned with a bank of acoustic guitars underpinning Jess Roden’s quality voice that leads into an organ and piano drawn out ending courtesy of a couple of Mott The Hoople renegades, this is a superior slice of honeydewed Midland’s attitude driven C&W that was light year’s ahead of its time.

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 – arguably the most important African album ever – became 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. 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.

20. 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.

21. Barry Reynolds – Times Square…the better known version of this song is from Marianne Faithfull’s Grammy nominated Broken English record released in 1977. This – more sparse recording – is shivering in its intensity with Reynolds’ reedy voice cut low in amongst superlative playing. Twenty-five years or so on… and its still as good as it was when mastered.

22. The Heptones – Book Of Rules… a single (WIP 6179 – though never one to trouble the compilers of the charts) as well as a veteran cut from a number of Island compilations over the years, most of which have been long since deleted. Produced by Harry J in 1973, this is harmony-led rock-steady at its very finest, never past its sell-by date as it remains as fresh-sounding as it was the day the initial acetate was cut in Kingston town.

23. Ronnie Lane & Slim Chance – Brother Can You Spare A Dime… founder of the Small Faces and then the engine room behind what became Rod Stewart & The Faces, Ronnie recorded two albums for Island but this is a one-off single (WIP 6229) and taken from the 1975 film of the same name. Never a hit and, besides, Slim Chance were always a better live outfit – their set one of the highpoints at the Basing Street Christmas party a year earlier, ending with Ronnie’s wife and a couple of others can-can-ing around the studio. Tragically, the musical world lost Ronnie to Multiple Sclerosis in 1996.

24. Cat Stevens – Lady D’Arbanville… from literally dozens to choose from, this is the opening cut to his curiously entitled Mona Bone Jakon album; the first song (and single) that would re-introduce the world to the man who’d earlier hit Decca / Deram paydirt with Matthew & Son… His total, troubadour style Island reinvention ultimately pitch-forked him into the monster selling league when the two follow-up albums went stratospheric. The bristling pin-up of countless bed-sits is still bearded, but now better known by his faith name, Yussef Islam

25. Nirvana – Tiny Goddess… many students of music wouldn’t be aware that Kurt Cobain’s group was not the only one named Nirvana. This is from 1967 and the duo’s (Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos ) first of two Island releases – the Story Of Simon Simopath – very possibly the world’s first quasi rock(ish) opera since it long pre-dated The Pretty Things SF Sorrow’s own footprints in that particular bed of quicksand. Over forty years on, the entire album remains a seminal slice of psychedelia while the original gate-fold cover would now be something of a collector’s item.

26. Paco de Lucia – A La Perla De Cadiz… born plain Francisco Sanchez Gomez in Algeciras in southern Spain, virtuoso de Lucia (who can barely read music) is acknowledged as one of the greatest ever exponents of Flamenco Guitar – indeed, noted by many commentators as one of the all-time greatest guitarists; this outstanding track is taken from the first of his two Island albums, Almoraima

27. The Wailers – Concrete Jungle… as much as it is with so many Island acts, it’s a nigh-on impossible task to choose just the one – definitive – track. With Marley, its beyond impossible so, the rationale behind this is: it’s the opening track from the Zippo-lighter sleeved Catch A Fire album and… it’s the first ever Bob Marley track I heard. And one that – quite literally – changed my known-as-it-was-then musical horizon for ever. Those opening few bars (first encountered in an upstairs conference room in a Horsham hotel during an Island presentation of forthcoming releases to the EMI Sales team of whom I was a member at the time) should have carried some form of health warning… once the needle dropped into the groove on that white-label test-pressing, I’d begun my journey past the point of no return.

28. Richard & Linda Thompson – I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight…former Fairport Convention stalwart (acknowledged by Rolling Stone in 2003 as one of the top-twenty guitarists of all time) together with his then wife Linda (Peters), The CWS (Manchester) Silver Band and their enduring – though minor – hit from this, their 1974 debut album – the first of three recorded for Island.

29. Tom Tom Club – Genius Of Love (original 12” mix)… a loose collective based around the Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz half of Talking Heads, Genius Of Love was the second single from their 1981 debut and was only released in the US after over 100,000 copies of the 12-inch platter sold in to the US as UK imports. Incredibly widely sampled over the years, Genius Of Love has been ‘utilised’ by Grand Master Flash, Ziggy Marley (Tomorrow’s People from the Grammy Winning #1 album Conscious Party). Mariah Carey (eeeek) and other Bad Boy MCs and re-mixers such as the X-ecutioners.

30. Grace Jones – The Apple Stretching… taken from 1982’s top-twenty release, Living My Life, the last of the Sly & Robbie infused Compass Point trilogy of albums. The track was written by Melvin van Peebles for the Broadway show, Waltz Of The Stork. Featured heavily in her One Man Show of the same era, the album cover is yet another striking Jean Paul Goude image – Grace as a US Marine with square hair and a white sticking plaster over her left eyebrow (although, in actual fact, its not – it is white masking tape as used by graphic artists at the time and cunningly positioned over the final, heavily manipulated, photograph).

31. Some Guys Have All The Luck – Junior Tucker… alas, poor Junior – he never did as it was Robert Palmer who scored with this. Junior’s sugar-sweet, early-teen voice married to an almost lovers-rock variant on the arrangement we all know and love and yet, sadly never much of a hit though, from memory, it dented the lower reaches only. To compensate, we took Junior shopping in Hamleys during his promo-trip to London – an uneasy expenses reclaim explanation followed. Just a one-off single yet… it still hits the spot.

32. John Martyn – Small Hours… sadly, no longer with us, John’s Island recordings epitomised the phrase: music with no known boundaries. This is the closing cut from his One World album – legend has it that this track was recorded at the Theale home of Island head honcho Chris Blackwell in the still of the night, whereby careful listeners can hear ducks in the far distance calling. Though both Solid Air and Inside Out are acknowledged masterpieces – this is as out there and up amongst the immortal recordings of all time; grace with danger.

33. Kid Creole & The Coconuts – Dear Addy … signed to Michael Zilkha’s ZE records and licensed to Island, the final track from their Fresh Fruit In Foreign Places epic… a regular closing song within their mid-eighties live set and, quite simply one of the great love songs of all time; with Darnell’s gut-wrenching, heart-rending vocal delivery of a song written about his soon to be ex-wife, Mama Coconut herself.

And so there we have it… its subjective of course and as much as one could have, there’s no room for Amazing Blondel, Apache Indian, Aswad, Sweet Pea Atkinson, the B52s, Kevin Ayers, Black Uhuru, Basement 5, The Bunch, John or JJ Cale, Jim Capaldi, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, The Cranberries, Cristina, the Distractions, Eddie & The Hot Rods, Dream Warriors, Melissa Etheridge, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Brian Eno, the Fania All Stars, Marianne Faithfull, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Free, the Gibson Brothers, Go!, Claire Hammill, Mike Harrison, Luther Grosvenor, PJ Harvey, Bryn Haworth, Inner Circle, Jade Warrior, the Jags, Jethro Tull, Ijahman, If, Linton Kwesi Johnson, the London Community Gospel Choir, Baaba Maal, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Mountain, Nasty Pop, Nico, Lee Perry, the Persuasions, Courtney Pine, the Plastics, The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra, Rico, Roxy Music, Rough Diamond, The Jess Roden Band, the Skatalites, Smith Perkins & Smith, Set The Tone, DJ Shadow, Scaffold, Sly & Robbie, Spencer Davis Group, Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, Swamp Dogg, Third World, Spooky Tooth, Tempest, Tit Na Nog, U2, Toots and the Maytals, Tripping Daisy, Bunny Wailer, Waling Souls, Vinegar Joe, War, Was (Not Was), Amy Wiehouse, Steve Winwood or Young MC among many, many others… they who not only served but produced exemplary music during Island’s rich and varied history.

Friday, May 8, 2009

My Name Is Michael Caine

It’s the Radishes; I am now absolutely certain of it – it can only be the Radishes.

Which means I have to face up to something of a quandary – do I continue to succumb to my early-Summer craving for the slightly peppery, raw-earth tang that so-tickles the Storey taste-buds? Or…should I embrace the almost unthinkable..?

There’s nothing quite like it, is there? That careful selection of a nice, firmly-rounded, reddened globe, choc-a-bloc full of fresh-out-the-ground taste; the clinging grit washed carefully away under cold water, then… gently now… patted dry before being placed on the chopping board to be topped, tailed and ultimately quartered with the sharpest of available blades.

This season’s crop, however, appears to be carrying an unidentifiable strain of something really rather dastardly that, I would offer up as being about as unpalatable as a train-load of commuters strap-hanging their way to work, fetchingly adorned in off-white and / or blue surgical masks in their collective way of avoiding the spread of... Swine Fever.

Nervous, piggy-eyes cast darting glances left and right; up and down from their tappety-tapping fingers across the massed battalions of BlackBerrys and i-Phones and other Personal Hand Held Devices. Oh, drat, I’ve just missed another Tweet. Has he got Swine Fever, is she – the one over there with the huge arse – a carrier? Breathe out, don’t breathe in.

They’ve become even more must-have fashion accessories now, haven’t they – these Personal Hand Held Devices; only the latest versions, the most trendily-coloured and totally up-to-date gadget will do. And, if you brandish a different make in either hand, so much the better.

Does it matter that it takes a degree in applied mathematics to actually operate them..? Oh no, of course not – so long as gadget X looks the part and thus becomes the envy of one’s fellow-commuter… that’s the bit, the only bit that counts.

Can you Facebook with it… of course… you can do it, you can B and bloody-well Q it. Can you be Captain Twitter and send and receive Tweets… most assuredly so. Can you be e-mailed anywhere that’s deeply inconvenient – that’s what we’re all after… isn’t it? Being seen to be important; being seen to be always in touch; being seen as being… well, one of the crowd.

Don’t I want to switch off once in a while and actually kick back a bit, take some time to think and… relax?

Oh no I don’t! Why should I do as Frankie said? Isn’t it better being… a Lemming?

Yeah... well – each to his own.

There’s a stack of things that could be so-described as personal hand held devices… aren’t there..? Toothbrushes for instance… A knife, a bottle opener, a fork…. A bar of soap or a hair dryer or a lady’s vibrator… all are equally personal as well as hand-held but, hmm… maybe we shouldn’t go there, eh?

So, young fella-me-lad; what are you going to regale us with today eh? Its been a while since you wrote anything – is that because you’ve been busy being busy or laid up with Swine Fever or have you been down in the dumps due to Reading’s largely lacklustre performance against Birmingham at the Mad Stad last Sunday?

Hmm… well, now that you mention it – I really was pretty miffed at the hugely inept performance that I finally managed to watch via the wild west wait. Two-nil down on the hour whereupon I became so distressed that I totally missed the Royals – to whom I first swore life-long allegiance long before my chin and a razorblade had made their own acquaintance – finding the back of the net less than a minute later.

At that point, I was trying to console myself and face up to the inevitable by adopting outlaw status and annoying the near-at-hand smoking Stazi by Bill Clintoning nicotine; neither worked and it all came to a crashing and thoroughly unsatisfactory end when the internet connection fizzled out with ten minutes left to run on the clock.

Sadly and by that point, even I had realised that nothing much short of a miracle was going to change the result and… unhappily, that miracle didn’t come to pass. Equals Burnley away in the first leg of the play-off semis.

Still, there is the Giro d’Italia to look forward to – three weeks of heavily muscled shaven legs pedalling up and down the length, breadth and backbone of Italy and who’d put odds on it being a non-homeland victory?

If they really have the form then there can be no discounting Cunego or Basso but… somehow I sense that the centenary victor-ludorum laurels may just get laid to rest atop the balding pate and curiously squeaky-voiced American, Levi Leipheimer.

However, with his team’s current diabolical financial problems – as revealed and reported over the last forty-eight hours – one wonders if that pressure will count against him and his Astana team? Which begs the question – is this the time for Lance to lead the warrior charge and Livestrong / Nike / Twitter his way to absolution and bring in new American title sponsor(s) to prop up the ailing Kazak registered squad?

Whichever way it pans out, it’ll be a fun distraction as always it is however, focus of late (since you so very kindly ask) has been across two fronts – AlphaBetaMusica is grinding its way forward and, within the next few days, we should have more filmed interviews in the bag.

That is, so long as technology is on side.

Technological re-acquaintance by way of test-driving super-duper HD camera X proved to be a trifle fraught the other day. For why? Well… there it stood on its tripod; it did all I asked of it by zooming in and out happily while focussing automatically and doing all the neat things its spec-book says it will… but… come trial footage playback time (with self reciting Mary Had A Little Lamb a few times) the sound it emitted reminded me of my car on mornings when it refused to spark into life.

A peculiarly annoying hissing sound and certainly not the satisfying – in this instance – sound of my own voice coming at me via headphones, narrating rhymes first learned on my Mother’s knee.

I’ve had that before – not with this camera or, indeed, nursery rhymes…but with cars. My elderly French vehicle – the one that was so old and dirty, it had stuff of uncertain lineage growing out of the back seat as well as further behind – quite often refused to behave and obey its master. One’d turn the key and the engine would wheeze away but, basically, it couldn’t be bothered to kick itself into life.

Generally speaking, this’d occur on cold and ever so frosty mornings.

And, during this wheezing process, it’d belch vast volumes of blue-black nauseous fumes from its backside – clearly some kind of mechanical gauntlet was being laid down between ancient Renault and elderly owner.

So, Basil Fawlty-like, I’d kick the tyres – an action which was, of course, totally useless but eased my frustration a bit; I’d raise the bonnet and assault the engine with sundry sturdy weapons (like spanners), I’d tighten various nuts, knobs and other protuberances in the vain hope that that might help – usually it wouldn’t largely because I hadn’t a clue what I was tightening up – and then I’d settle back into a state of… I’ll be more patient than you will… that generally worked although not before most of the lane and the entire front of Merle HQ stank of fetid diesel.

I wasn’t allowed to indulge in this game of patience with my car when washing had been put out on the line – or rather, I learned that it was wiser not to… the wrath of one who has just placed freshly laundered stuff (especially white bed-linen)on the line was, I learned, to be avoided – at all costs.

None of this was probably helped by the fact that I ran the darned thing on illegal diesel. Really..? Yeah… I did.

Time was when cash was in short supply. So short, in fact, that there wasn’t any. And I was down to about a litre left in the tank – it was my pal Rik’s birthday - he, his wife and five year old lived about six villages away and he’d made mention that there was a bottle of home-brewed walnut liqueur in their cupboard.

Equals do I chance getting there and back on diesel fumes or… do I investigate what the unidentified for nearly two-years liquid is that sloshes around inside the gigantic metal container-thing just inside the barn door at Merle HQ?

Yet another of life’s little quandaries that I get thrown from time to time.

Investigation is the only logical route forward, not least because the card that my bank has helpfully given me – the one that works at petrol pumps – has also stalled. This, in essence (sic) is last chance saloon; the swing doors beckon, the floor creaks, the woodwork squeaks. Am I gonna be Captain Fantastic or the Dirt Brown Cowboy?

Besides, its way to dodgy a trip to attempt when the fuel needle hasn’t budged off of zero for days on end, no matter how enticing the thought of Rik’s home-brewed walnut wine may be – and, I can honestly certify to that… not quite as lethal as my own variant which would have forced breathalyser bag-manufacturers to invest in double-strength plastic… but bloody potent nonetheless.

And so, one empty litre plastic bottle in hand, I stride manfully into Merle HQ’s barn, lighting my way with a torch whose own batteries are on their last legs and set about decanting the liquid that’s in this colossal metal container; liquid that had been imagined as some form of heating fuel but which might just be… something rather more helpful.

It spurts out in a most satisfactory manner and smells a bit like diesel but is coloured... bright red.

Hmmm… time to call Rik and discuss the possible properties of this liquid and, more importantly discover if my car might run on it or will inserting said liquid completely trash the engine.

Rik – in another life – was a physicist and more understands boffin-stuff like this miles more than I do.

Twenty minutes later he’s convinced me that insertion of said liquid is not going to harm my engine and so, with the walnut-wine on the near horizon, I siphon it in and bingo… the fuel-needle hovers satisfyingly above zero… the car starts… and purrs away contentedly.

How illegal is this illegal fuel? Is the first question I field as we set sail, destination walnut-wine land.

Well… Rik said it was completely illegal; he reckons its agricultural diesel and, if the Gendarmes stop me and fiddle about in the engine then, basically, I’m fxxxxd.

Oh… I think perhaps it’d be best if we went on the back roads, don’t you? The ancient Cairn settles back on her lap as we trundle along on lanes unlikely to be frequented by the local Gendarmerie, happy to be going somewhere... anywhere. How much is in the tank in the barn?

With my eye on the far horizon, scanning for flashing blue lights, I hesitate. Not too sure, I reckon about 500 litres, maybe a bit more.

Brilliant… that should last you about four months, don’t you think?

And it did… even during the days when cash became a bit more plentiful, I didn’t put any legal diesel in the car for nearly six months.

Anyhow – as it turned out the malfunctioning camera’s malfunction was caused by there being a run down battery in the microphone… I’d left it switched on having recorded the stuff I did for Rob and the Music Week Awards and… needless to say, it had breathed its battery-last… equals, one miniscule newly-purchased battery later and all was fine.

OK… so, does that mean that the AlphaBetaMusica project is coming together?

It does… Essentially, it means that, even though the monetisation isn’t there yet (and I’ve had enough people tell me I’m totally insane trying to pull that bit together in the current financial climate) – the interview process – which’ll form the backbone to the whole – can carry on apace.

OK… that’s great but… you mentioned a second front?

Ahhh… yes… not long after I moved to France, I quit working within artist management; detailing that hugely acrimonious sixteen months is pointless… lets just say that it left such a hugely bitter taste that I vowed and declared never, ever, to enter that particular arena again.


About a month ago, a hugely circuitous set of circumstances began evolving as I perused a wide variety of vaguely-related web sites. This, in turn, led to a spot of e-mail correspondence which led to a mid-morning meeting in a vegan café with someone who I’d come to know pretty well rather a long time ago.

Two decades or so of water under the bridge and… yes, that’s a fair degree of catching up to catch up on… So much so that we decamped from the diced cucumbers, whole grain nuts and soggy tofu sandwiches to a different café altogether whose menu offered high end cappuccinos and a lot of cakes, none of which contained a carrot.

After a further hour or so, we parted – his umbrella was heading one way, I was about to get drenched in a different direction. And within that parting, I was handed a small carrying case containing ten or so CDs… most related to an artist whose music had led us to meeting in the first instance but… right at the back of the carrying case was a single disc marked with the one word: demos.

To be entirely truthful, I hadn’t a clue that person-X – who’d been sipping on water as I’d quaffed so many full-strength cappuccinos that I was almost astral-projecting – had carved out any form of a musical career at all until really quite late in our chat. However, in those intervening years he had achieved a very fair degree of success with album sales not to be sniffed at.

Even so, the jaded cynic in me left his CD of demos alone as I fire one much loved tune after another much loved newly digitised tune directly into i-Tunes. I could almost feel my i-Touch salivating at the prospect of long-awaited music such as I’ve just been given.

His CD is laying there and something – I know not what – is saying… Go on, play it… have a listen… you never know.

I’m about ninety seconds into the first song and the first Helloooooooooooo? moment arises.

Track two is going to be a let down, isn’t it..? Nope…. Wrong, very wrong… This one's even better.

Track three is even better. Track four is sensational and five holds its own admirably in such company – they’re all work in progress but sound like they’re not too terribly far away from being ready to master.

Later that night I’m sent another song… apparently its one that he’d forgotten about. I download it, i-Tunes launches and… oh fxxk….

It is… in one, single, word… incredible.

I play it again… immediately… all four and a bit minutes of it.

Its extraordinary… can this be for real?

Time to check in with my vinyl guru whose impeccably tuned ear lives near the best boulangerie in all of France; as bedtime beckons, I send him a link with a single question – is this as good as I think it is?

The next again morning I wake and that last song is running through my head… can it be, was it really that good when I listened last night..? Surely not. Press play and… Holy Mother… its even better than I’d thought.

The machine sparks into life and indicates that I have an e-note awaiting me; the man from Del Monte, with ears I totally trust has got up early, listened and responded… Not for him the single sentence… he doesn’t do single sentences… oh no, he’s offered up a full scale, paragraphs long, critique that ends with thumbs very much in the ascendant.

In brief, his ears are hearing what every fibre of my body has been yelling at me for twenty-four hours – this is special… bloody special.

As a consequence, I’m now wearing two hats… both the Fedora and the rather fetching cap are seriously in play.

In the meantime and in amongst all of this, the small matter of a Rupert Murdoch news conference-call reported in the Guardian catches my eye.

From which I learn that it appears that News Corp are looking into and ‘expect’ to start charging for access to content posted on their newspaper web sites with a calendar year – the opening comment being that Murdoch is ‘striving to fix a malfunctioning business model’

Rupert, the billionaire bear has clearly been looking at – amongst others – The Wall Street Journal who do charge (and are seeing on-line subscriptions rising) and was quoted saying, 'The current days of the internet will soon be over'.

The cynics will (probably) come up with lots of pithy adjectival phrases involving bolting horses and stable doors but… this, to borrow one single billionaire word is… epochal.

Because, once one organisation kicks out the traces… and without a shadow of a doubt, Murdoch and his henchmen and women within his plethora of owned newspapers will lead the charge, then everyone else… no matter how long it’ll take them to catch up… will follow.

He’s right – and not because what he’s saying is precisely what I’ve been saying for months on this Voltaire on its grassy knoll.

He's right because you cannot expect to create content… costly content… and give it away for free; its not a very clever business model.

So… where were we, where did this all begin… in all the excitement, I’ve rather lost my train of thought… ah yes, the multiplication tabular spread of Swine Fever – the newest variant on Bird ‘flu.

Don’t fret, I have the solution… eat Radishes.

Because… this season’s crop contains an unidentifiable strain of… something… that, somewhat disturbingly, causes buttock-clenching flatulence on an industrial level.

Which therefore means - radishes, eaten prior to that daily commute, become the perfect antidote to the spread of Swine Fever.