Friday, July 27, 2007

Loose Fred

One of the albums that has spent most time in my CD player these past few months is the terrific Triptych, compiled by Fred Deakin, one half of Lemon Jelly. Nothing to do with the Scottish festival of the same name, Fred's 3 CD opus is the best mix-tape you'll ever hear, and as it blithely mashes 90 tracks up against each other with a blatant disregard for genre, it gets the Irk The Purists seal of approval. Within its four hours you'll hear Mike Nesmith rubbing shoulders with Roni Size, the Durutti Column mixed into Grand Puba, George Michael getting it on with the Jesus and Mary Chain...Pentangle, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, The Selecter, Bernard Cribbins, even a house track by Michel Houellebecq, ferchrissakes. All is grist to Deakin's mill. He seems to take particular delight in confounding expectations, and while some have complained that the track listing is too random and doesn't flow, 90% of what he mixes is pure gold, regardless of provenance, and if Deakin likes it, that's usually good enough for me. He introduces some artists you've (I've) never come across, and digs up the less obvious tracks from those that you have. It's a cliche de nos jours that DJ's "take you on a journey", but in this case it's true, even if that journey is from Tim Hardin to James Last via Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys.

As it's a mixtape-type affair, with each track bleeding in to the next, I've refrained from putting up individual tracks; instead I'm presenting for your listening pleasure a short sequence from the second CD, courtesy of the technological marvel that is Audacity. (Incidentally, CDs like this point up the failings of MP3 players; try ripping it to listen to on your I-Pod and you end up with those annoying gaps between tracks. Grrr. Apparently there are ways around this, but what a bloody faff it is.)

In this little excerpt, Todd Rundgren's plaintive Torch Song gives way to XTC's obscure A Dictionary of Modern Marriage, which a bit of Googling tells me was a dub version of Battery Brides from their Go 2 album of 1979. This is overlaid with a capella vocals from Das EFX's Real Hip Hop, then we're straight into a nice bit of Love Rears Its Ugly Head by Living Colour. The band were always a bit too earnest to really love, but this (and I quote) "Soul Power Hip Hop Mix" really hits the spot. Finally, to calm things down, we hear a little snippet of Dudley Moore's Amalgam. If you like this, you won't be disappointed by the other 85 tracks on the CD, and for around a tenner you can't say fairer than that. Fred's notes on each track are worth a tenner on their own.

Incidentally, when he's not producing mind-expanding mix CDs, Fred seems to spend large parts of his time doing graphic design for Airside, the company he co-founded. I'm particularly well disposed towards Airside as they once made my two small children very happy. It was at the V&A's summer garden fete a few years back; these are peculiar events, village fairs transplanted into Kensington, with the great and good of the London design industry letting their hair down. Michael Marriott runs the tombola, Graphic Thought Facility do a "beat the goalie" stall, etc. I seem to remember that the winning entry in the children's dressing up competition (judged by Ron Arad and Matthew Hilton, natch) was a four year old dressed up as a Sony Walkman, and not any old generic walkman, but the very first Sony Walkman, the TPS-L2. It was exact in every detail. I'm pretty sure that the four year old played no part in its construction. Anyway, Airside were running a stall where you had to race some miniature remote controlled cars (which they'd brought back from Japan, natch) around a cardboard track. They'd also clearly overbought on the prizes, and even though my two ankle-biters could barely keep the cars on the tabletop, they both walked away with armfuls of gifts. So, thank you to Airside for their generosity. And thanks to Fred for the CDs.

Download an excerpt from CD2 of Fred Deakin's Triptych (deleted May 2008)

Visit Airside

Buy Triptych here

Friday, July 13, 2007


On the few occasions when my devout atheism wobbles, I call to mind the fact that a just and fair God would not allow Shaun Ryder and Shane McGowan to still be walking among us when Robert Palmer is six feet under. This isn't a value judgement on their music (though I've never understood the appeal of The Pogues); merely an observation about the relative health of all concerned. Shaun and Shane, who've been responsible for a large percentage of the GDP of Afghanistan, Bolivia and Dublin between them, are still dragging their cadaverous frames around the circuit. Palmer, on the other hand, who looked like a walking advert for Shredded Wheat (fit, tanned, peroxide-white teeth) took out a mortgage on a pine bungalow in 2003. Where's the justice?

To add insult to injury, I get the impression that Palmer's musical stock is pretty low too. Most people's image of him is of a self-satisfied smoothie, soul with the rough edges sanded down. And yet Robert Palmer produced a string of terrific LPs, and had a musical CV that oozed credibility. For fuck's sake, he roped in The Meters and Little Feat to make his first solo album, and you don't get much more credible than that. He also worked with Lee "Scratch" Perry, The System, half of Chic, Talking Heads (Chris Frantz guested on Clues; Palmer returned the favour by appearing on Remain In Light), Gary Numan (don't laugh- Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor are totally on the money when they cite him as an innovator), and, er, two of Duran Duran, and had the taste to cover Allen Touissant, Toots and The Maytals and Bob Dylan.

So, why is his name now accompanied by a sneer among the cognoscenti? Well, the Terence Donovan-directed video for Addicted To Love didn't really do him any favours in the long run. Sure, it was his biggest hit, but it also cemented the image in the public's mind of Palmer as a smug Lothario surrounded by bimbos. Even in Saturday's Guardian, Chromeo can't see past the tailoring (though they're correct when they say he's been all but forgotten).

So, does Palmer really have the funk, as Chromeo maintain? Well, judge for yourself. A few choice cuts are reproduced below. The first, Best of Both Worlds, is from Double Fun, his 1978 LP, the cover of which features a grinning Palmer surveying a couple of recently discarded bikinis by a swimming pool. While both the song and the album cover are a product of their time, there's no doubting the quality of the instrumentation on this gently lilting, reggae-inflected classic. In case you still don't believe that Palmer, now viewed by most as a slightly hipper Tom Jones, once had credibility to burn, this track(and much of Double Fun) is produced by Tom Moulton. Who hell he? Well, he's only the man who practically invented the 12 inch single and the genius behind Love Is The Message by MFSB. In fact, Tom Moulton is so achingly hip that those arbiters of urban cool at Soul Jazz have recently compiled a "best of".

The next cut, You Are In My System, is a cover of a lesser-known tune by The System (Palmer also had an endearing knack of championing the less obvious-- I remember an episode of The Tube where he was raving about the new album by The Family). Its digital, brittle funk may seem a little dry when placed next to the slinkier grooves of Sneakin'Sally Thru The Alley or Pressure Drop, but he was always able to intuit the zeitgeist, and this is exactly the sort of thing that was au courant in 1983, especially around Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, where the likes of Tom Tom Club and Grace Jones had seemingly taken up residence, and where Palmer's albums Clues and Pride were both recorded under the auspices of the late Alex Sadkin. Incidentally, this version of the track is taken from a cheapie "best of", and not from Pride, which I don't own on CD; from memory, the vocal sounds like its been re-done on this one.

If his reputation has suffered, it probably dates to the time he left his spiritual home, Island, to sign with EMI at the end of the eighties. Out went the collaborations with Talking Heads and other darlings of the NME. In came the singles with the likes of UB40, and the playing up of the lounge lizard image. However, one album from his EMI years stands out, and is worth checking the bargain bins for. Strangely, and despite the above, it's an album of covers of 40s and 50s standards by Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Sinatra and the like, entitled Ridin'High. Usually this sort of lazy cash-in is the last refuge of the creatively bankrupt (cf. Bryan Ferry's Dylanesque), but in this instance it works, thanks in part to the daring orchestration of Clare Fischer, who also scored The Family's album, cited above. For my money, and this really will set the cat among the pigeons, Fischer beats Nelson Riddle's original orchestration into a close second place with his take on Witchcraft, and while Palmer's vocal on the track isn't quite on a par with Sinatra, the man from Batley adds enough brio to make this cover his own.

Download Best of Both Worlds MP3 (deleted May 2008)

Download You Are In My System MP3 (deleted May 2008)

Download Witchcraft MP3 (deleted May 2008)

Buy A Tom Moulton Mix here

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

George you're on my mind

While it wasn't entirely unexpected, the death of George Melly leaves the world a slightly less interesting place, and deprives us of a particularly talented polymath. Though known primarily for his surrealist tendencies, his jazz stylings as "Good Time George", and as the long-time vocalist for John Chilton's Feetwarmers, it was through his writings rather than his music that I got to know his work, and if you've never come across his books, then his autobiographies (in particular Rum, Bum and Concertina) are a good place to start. His opus of 1970, Revolt Into Style, is as good a look at British pop culture as you could wish for, simultaneously detached and intrigued by the rise of the Stones and the Beatles, and able to key into parallel accomplishments in the theatre and film. Unfortunately, it's now out of print, and second hand copies start at an eye-watering £80 it seems. I'm also very fond of his coffee-table book Paris and the Surrealists, which features ravishing black and white photography of the city in question, and which imparts a particularly sinister subtext to all those deserted arcades, dusty boulangeries, and shop windows full of dolls' glass eyes (which otherwise wouldn't be sinister at all, eh?). This too, seems to be out of print, though second hand copies won't set you back nearly as much.

Anyway, on the assumption that you came here to listen rather than to read book reviews, here's a neat bit of video, which serves as a lovely post-script to his life, and which reminds us of his always-present anarchic streak. It also (nearly) makes you want to forgive The Stranglers for the rest of their career... a tip of the fedora to the original poster of this video, too. Good work, fella.