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.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Recently got hold of the new Mojo issue here in the US and totally agree with your thoughts on the attached cd

Compared your suggested track-listing to whats on their cd and despite the fact that I hadn't come across quite a few of your selections, the Mojo one seems pretty shoddy given the kind of catalog they would have had access to.

One very odd ommision in the Mojo 50 albums which was no mention of any of the Roxy Music albums. Maybe my memory is playing up but, weren't RM on Island?

Alan M Beal, Atlanta

Anonymous said...

Agree totally - have had the new edition for a few days now. That CD - talk about shooting themselves fair and square in the foot! It could have been amazing. Pity.

I'd also say that their interview with Chris Blackwell - while very good - could have been so much more entertaining. I guess you get to talk to people like that on only rare ocasions so, why the hell not go through (say) his own top ten, top twenty Island albums. How good would that have been?

The Nick Drake article was fine but sort of fizzled out when I wanted to read more.


Neil Storey said...

Alan - I think there is a case for taking glasses out of case, attaching to end of nose and perusing page 54, second column in from the left and, half-way down, Roxy's For Your Pleasure album is listed at #15 in the Mojo chart..!

Personally, I'd have gone for the first album but - maybe that's splitting hairs.

The album list is fascinating - tho a few gems missed (in my view from the grassy knoll)... and odd that anything pre-1967 doesn't make it...

So... here's a few from that era that maybe could have (perhaps they were on the bench... who knows)?

Ernest Ranglin's album called Wranglin' (ILP 909) from 1964.
The Sue Story - volume one (ILP 925) - 1965
Bob & Earl's Harlem Shuffle (ILP 951) from 1967
The Best Of Jackie Edwards (ILP 936) 1966
(all of them were released in mono!)
another curious omission is the Best of the Spencer Davis Group (ILPS 9070) one of the early stereo releases from 1967
and... how about this for a title: The Most Exciting Organ Ever - Billy Preston's 1965 album (ILP 935)

Lots of contenders right through the ages... but one that leapt out at me from Mojo's list was the MacDonald & Giles album... what a real, long forgotten, gem that is... in the wake of the first King Crimson album and... one I haven't heard in aeons - can't imagine it's even been digitised...

Thanks for comments anyways...

Drew said...

I think it's more a case of Mojo eneavouring to sell their next edition, rather than selling a goldmine of cretive talent, hidden in the depths of archives for many a moon.
As it was free with the cover price, budget for valid research and compilation to make it something worth keeping in one's collection, rather than a a future bauble on a scarecrow to frighten the birds from your seedlings, just wasn't there.