Friday, September 29, 2006

Ultra Vivien Scene

While we're on about posh post-punk birds slumming it(see below), Vivien Goldman deserves an honourable mention. Her recent book on the making of Bob Marley's Exodus has assured her position as the toast of New York, but those of you with long memories (or a subscription to Rock's Back Pages in my case) will be aware of her many years at the coalface on the NME, interviewing the cream of the post-punk demi-monde.

Her mention in Irk The Purists, however, is entirely due to her sole attempt at a musical career, the single Launderette/Private Armies. Like Maximum Joy, below, this was recorded in that fertile period when punk had exhausted its possibilities and was starting to look elsewhere for inspiration; though unlike Maximum Joy, who incorporated elements of the nascent rap scene, Ms. Goldman and her cohorts looked slightly less further afield. To West London to be precise: Ladbroke Grove. The A side, Launderette, was recorded under the auspices of PiL, using down-time from their recording of Flowers of Romance at The Manor in Oxford; John Lydon receives an executive producer's credit, though his participation was apparently zero. Instead the donkey work fell to PiL guitarist Keith Levene, who marshalled the combined forces of George Oban of Aswad (bass), Vicky Aspinall of The Raincoats (violin) and Robert Wyatt (!) on percussion. Private Armies, meanwhile, was produced by Adrian "On-U" Sherwood and features Oban, Levene and Aspinall along with Steve Beresford (a dub mix of Private Armies appears on the New Age Steppers 1st LP). Released on a small indie label (Window) here in the UK, it caught the attention of Ed Bahlman in NYC, who released it on his 99 Records imprint Stateside; see Maximum Joy, below, again.

And this turned out to be Vivien's sole foray into the recording studio. A shame, as I think her voice is pretty unique, and the songs themselves are especially strong, showcasing Vivien's twin obesessions of punk and reggae. Of course, others were mixing punk and reggae at around the same time, notably Don Letts with the aforementioned Levene and Jah Wobble, in Steel Leg vs. Electric Dread. The latter, though, never sounds quite as good as it should considering the talent involved. Launderette delivers on all fronts though. Vivien is perfectly placed, given her connections with Jamaica and West London, and the song sounds exactly as good as it should, Oban's dubby bass anchoring the whole thing while Vicky Aspinall's violin and Robert Wyatt's percussion seem like they were beamed it from another planet. Best of all, though are Vivien's vocals, a mixture of resignation, affection and admonishment ("You always were untidy..." she reflects wistfully, almost fondly), and Levene's production which leaves exactly enough space to appreciate the song's different elements. The B-side is every bit as good as you'd expect from early period Adrian Sherwood, especially the parts where he double-tracks her voice. The best bit, though, is when she says "If the heavy metal boys or the boys in blue..."; at a time when so many singers were hiding their upbringing (trying to pretend they were"street"...cough..Strummer..cough) and would have introduced a glottal stop into "metal", Ms. Goldman shows off her posh Golders Green background. Truly, "keeping it real" in the very best sense.

Download Launderette

Download Private Armies (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)


Carlotta G said...

Love, love, love your oh-so-knowledgable blog and tunes, and have sussed out keeping the tunes - do you spend hours researching all this stuff? Truly amazing.....very impressed

irkthepurists said...

You're so sweet! I'm blushing, hon.

But the sad truth is that, short of confirming stuff on Google, I do no research whatsoever. Sad because, despite many years of school, I cannot recall very much about the unification of Italy, solving quadratic equations or the poetry of WH Auden. But I can remember any amount of pop trivia. Which is only really good for getting the occasional point in a pub quiz. Or writing a blog.