Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Simon says...

Ahh, I can now die a happy man. Simon Napier-Bell deigned to choose my question to reply to in his daily blog today (Jan 30th). And yes, that’s really me on his blog, despite Simon assuming I live in London (I don’t—I only said I live in the UK in my e-mail).

Does this mean I’m now One Degree of Separation from Dusty Springfield, Jeff Beck, Marc Bolan, George Michael at al? Well, probably not. But a guy can dream, right?

Brilliant Corner

Just in case you’ve never seen those industry-baiting rogues Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond burning a million quid (I hadn’t), it’s available for your entertainment and edification on YouTube, along with a smorgasbord of other KLF-related footage, including long-forgotten gems by Disco 2000 and the JAMMs, as well as a host of interviews (including a rather good and perceptive one with Irish chat show host Gay Byrne, with interjections by Joe Elliot of Def Leppard). See all 183 videos at

But it wasn’t pyrophilia that led me to this section of the YouTube site. Instead, I was prompted by the always-excellent blog at Systems of Romance. A few months back, Mr. Romance mentioned Brilliant, about whom I’d not thought for many a year. But back in the day, I thought they were absolutely bril…sorry, fantastic, and criminally underrated. Coming in at the tail end of that whole post-punk desire to engage directly with the music biz and take it on on its own terms, i.e. to make intelligent pop records (much as Martin Fry, Paul Morley et al had done in the previous four years), Brilliant also presaged the derided hegemony of Stock Aitken and Waterman on the British charts. But don’t hold that against them. And definitely don’t let any SAW-related prejudice stop you from tracking down their wonderful album Kiss The Lips of Life.

The line-up of the band fluctuated for the first four years of its life, before coalescing around Youth (then-recently exiled from Killing Joke, and later to become anthemic producer and remixer for James, The Verve, The Orb, among others), Jimmy Cauty (future KLF member) and vocalist June Montana. Managed by ex-Echo and the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes provocateur Bill Drummond, and signed to the nascent Food label (co-run by ex-Teardrop Dave Balfe, and later home to Jesus Jones, Blur, the band’s sound belied the sum of its parts. You might expect angular post-punk dissonance or epic raincoat-wearing greyness. Instead, the sound is, I would argue, not a million miles away from what Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were doing at the same time 3,500 miles away in Minneapolis; synthesised soul.

You can definitely hear a link between Brilliant and other early SAW material (Divine, Dead or Alive), but there is also a hard edge to the material and the production that is conspicuously absent from the later Hit Factory production line of identikit SAW singles for Kylie, Jason, Sonia and so forth. That Montana, Cauty and Youth were involved in the writing of the material is surely the crucial distinction. The chord sequences between the chorus and the verse are particularly audacious, at least to my ears.

Despite this, I and Mr. Romance seem to be in the minority in our appreciation of Brilliant. The album sold bugger all copies; June Montana supposedly has stacks of unsold LPs under her bed. The participants have little positive to say about the project; Drummond: "I signed a band called Brilliant, who I worked with, we worked together, and it was complete failure. Artistically bankrupt project. And financially deaf. We spent £300,000 on making an album that was useless. Useless artistically, useless... commercially."

Youth and Cauty both went on to bigger things, while June Montana headed up the KLF-backed Disco 2000, before essaying a brief solo career at the start of the 90s (George Michael asked at the time “Why isn’t June Montana a huge star?”). And Brilliant were all but forgotten by everyone except the WEA accountants who’d authorised splurging £300,000 on an album that nobody bought.

Thanks to Drummond and Cauty’s involvement, you can see the video for “Love Is War” (and their version of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” ) in the same demarcated section of YouTube as the above-mentioned KLF material. Ignore the slightly-dodgy theatrics and dress-sense on display in “Love Is War”. Put aside any antipathy towards Stock Aitken and Waterman. Instead just imagine playing this out between “Change of Heart” by Change, and the SOS Band’s “Just Be Good To Me”, two Flyte Tyme productions of similar vintage.

Jam and Lewis postscript.

See "Love Is War" below.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Postcard From The Edge

How great does this look? And how much does Malcolm Ross look like Peter Capaldi from In The Thick Of It?

Come again

An early contender for headline of the year, glimpsed over someone's shoulder in a UK women's magazine:

"I SPENT £10,000 ON SPERM"

Nyman is an island

This story has been doing the rounds for a couple of weeks now (and I read another take on it in Grazia magazine tonight), but I think this is really the definitive report, courtesy of The Daily Mail (aka Der Sturmer). It's an object lesson in how no one ever walks away from a Daily Mail story with their dignity intact. I particularly like the references to Michael Nyman's stinginess, his lack of bedroom stamina, and the unnecessary comments on his physical appearance. But then, just as Ms Slavin might be thinking she's earned the sympathy of the Mail's reporter, the paper's lofty disdain for both parties is spelled out in black and white: "[T]hey were both fooled and both made fools of themselves."

The best line of all: 'Then she added: "You underestimated my intellect Michael and you underestimated my big heart."' Yep. I'm sure that's exactly what she said. Verbatim.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Exit strategy

A little something to clear away any hangovers at the start of the new year...

Sonny Sharrock, Ronald Shannon Jackson, the wirbelwind Wuppertaler (© David Toop) Peter Brotzmann, and Bill Laswell. Ladies and gentlemen, LAST EXIT! Does improvised skronk- come any better? I think not.