Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Thursday, 20 December 2012

THE YEAR OF RIVER COTTAGE POP - My 2012 In British Pop Music

Dog, appalled.
2012. The year of River Cottage British pop. Another beardy year like the last, but if anything our beardiest since the mid-1500s. Of course, modern British folkpopsters (who ironically could actually afford to have their faces depilated regularly by expensively-hired Harley Street bumfluff-skivvies) need their beards  to hide their bruised chins, the living livid testament to the abrasive scaliness of Satan’s scrotum (mumfmumfmumf) and even I’ll admit it’s impossible, maybe even undesirable, to keep such poshos out of pop. Pop’s always relied on its MIX of people, classes, ages, genders, sexualities, races. But right now, there’s no mix, just an endlessly marching onward army of grinning braying dishabille pricks-with-acoustics & gap-year-tans, bullying the life and non-punchability out of British pop music. A rewritten map of modern Britain to the scale of pop-dominance would see the South East grotesquely inflated, the rest of the country shrivelled to the point of non-existence, less a witch on a pig than a shard of melted cape on a bloated back-trotter. Private school educated people should never be allowed to dominate music and  I should fkn know, I WENT to private school (Henry VIII, Coventry, fellow alumni - Phillip Larkin, Jerry Dammers). So like Phil & Jerry, I know these chortling fucks, the gaseousness of their ‘tolerance’, the sub-cellular nature of their conservatism.  Like their spiritual forefathers & Abingdon-old boys Radiohead, (and their pervy Virginia-Water wanker-uncles Coldplay) today’s current crop of corduroy choirboys and floral-print warblers would doubtless play down the significance of their backgrounds, after all, the appropriation of working-class art by the middle-classes is nothing new – indeed it could be argued that the British folk revival of the 60s precisely depended on such bucolic reactionary yearnings by an educated urban elite. What’s been so uniquely dispiriting about this in 2012 has been the lazily superficial nature of this reappropriation (Sandy Denny would open  her mouth and flame throw these fuckers), and the way it’s been lubricated by the similarly  narrowing class base of the press & PR industries that boost this be-mandolined bollocks into the nations hearts. Tiny twats with tiny minds so locked in on their tiny backslap world they can’t see out beyond their confines or comprehend a British music that might actually have something to fucking say.

Not a problem for the rest of us. Out here, we can listen to the TRUE folk music of modern Britain. Out here, we got other problems to worry about, and so we listen to people we’d actually let in our home, cos their homes are as broke and permanently on the emergency credit as ours. Folk like Kal Seriousz, whose ‘Leftovers’ EP on Bandcamp was my first highlight of the year, a sneaky peak at what ended up on the cutting-room floor before his soon-come debut album drops. Heavy, bassy, agitated, doomy, dark music, suffused with an unplaceable but unmistakeable air of dread and danger that's impossible to fake. Highlight had to be the rampaging 'Bishop & Cable' featuring Cappo riding the kind of hard-as-fuck agit-funk I haven't heard delivered this hard since the golden age of Gunshot and Black Radical MK II. Fierce. Keep an eye on this wise guy.

Similarly, keep em peeled on Reks whose “Passports” on Gracie Productions tore me a 3rd 4th and 5th eye back in summer, Numonics playing a blinder on the production, finding not only a fantastically pugilistic beat but then augmenting low-end tom-hits to accentuate the impact, letting horns and keys drone into deranged new spaces whilst all the time Reks keeps hitting you up with revolutionary rhetoric that suggested the album 'REBELutionary' was gonna be beyond essential (and it was). On the flip 'Gepeto (Reality Is)' ramped up the tension with some startling anti-cop lyrics and unsettling nu-skool menace. Superb, angry, timely shit.

Of course, the narrative now for those NOT a part of the chortling academy-status 6th-form centre that is modern British pop is that “common” people’s ambition can only be to go on X-factor, and eventually, if they’re lucky, get to sing the songs rich people write, those rich people from the same five schools, the same big fat thousands-of-squid a term hothouses of mediocrity and mendacity currently clogging the charts and radio with so much ad-ready yodelling and smackable glockenspiel-led fragility. At a time when music education across the comprehensives is being slashed to the point of non-existence,  our current generation of schmindie faux-folk wankers are an especially hateful breed, emblematic of how in Cameron & Gove’s future, music will be the sole preserve of the moneyed-up elite. Just wait and see, when the cuts really start to bite exactly how much of a ‘luxury’ the Coalition consider music & arts, how funding for working-class kids to learn about music and get to play it will be jettisoned as something ‘we’ can do without. Already one in four councils making music teachers redundant. Spending down to about a quid a kid. In an environment so hostile to music from the bottom it’s a miracle that astonishing shit like Edward Scissortongue’s  “Spastic Max” on High Focus even gets made. No surprise it doesn’t get heard anywhere. A disturbingly real transmission from a man in a room in a tall building, the music's finger-twitching minimalism suiting the tense, grainy vibe of the lyrics perfectly, summing up the frustrations and fuck-ups and fall of a man we've all seen around, sometimes out for the count on the corner, sometimes apoplectic in the phone booth, most often staring dead ahead at us from the mirror. A true snapshot of reality, but full of compassion and depth as well. Hip-hop doing what it does best — telling us what the fuck is going on, unsparingly, from an album ‘Better Luck Next Life’ that I still haven’t crawled out from the bottom of. 

An equally engrossing voice in British music this year was M9, amazing to hear him making the leap from mixtapes this year (although you should still check out the amazing bandcamp track ‘Organized Democracy’ cos of its incredibly thought-provoking lyricism, including the kind of Movement Ex reference guaranteed to get this ol' b-boy clapping his hands in auld-fart glee and its beautifully brooding undertow of aquatic bass and dubbed-out jazz menace). “White Russian” was the first single from his debut LP 'Magna Carta', a slow-burning groove over which RM draped some engrossing rhymes, crepuscular keys and smoky cymbals riding the groove deep into your cortex. Don't sleep, never sleep on M9.

His continuing marginalisation wouldn’t matter if you could be confident that those working class kids who do still see music as something to explore (and let’s face it, who needs the acquiescence of a fkn teacher in making that happen?) would at least have a chance to get heard in wider circles than their own little undergrounds. Not gonna happen when Jocinta and Jocasta and Gawain and Rupert have the whole fkn shebang nailed from press to PR to playlist, confident that their pals in the papers and in plugging will ensure Britain can be carpet-bombed with this pleasant pissantry until the next 5 years of Conservative rule are assured. 

So at a time when pop’s vital function of providing a genuinely alternative view, of suggesting the orthodoxy might be wrong, is more needed than ever what are we hearing? Tacit approval of the status quo, terror of pop reaching any level of import beyond the pleasantry of background wallpaper, lifestyle augmentation/affirmation. Hey, I was going batshit about this back in February.
All the time trying to press fantastic plastic like Task Force’s “My Last Trip” into the unconsciousness of everyone I know. 'My Last Trip' breaks Task Force’s long hiatus with perhaps some of the weirdest music they've ever made, Farma G stretching out some astonishing doom-drone replete with scarifying Goblin-style vocals, the whole coming across like Sabbath/Amon Duul at their trippy best. Hadn't heard hip-hop get this fucked up and psychedelic since the golden age of New Kingdom - Chester P matching Farma's far out freakitude with some mind-bending DMT'd-verbals. Astonishing. 'Music From The Corner 5' is out early 2013 and hell I'm getting scared already. OFWGKTA seem awful polite next to these loons.

In 2012 perhaps more than ever before the British music media’s increasing South-Eastern myopia really started to rankle, and started seeming awfully dickheaded when you were hearing the fantastic racket being made by Bristol’s Split Prophets fam this year. Res & DatKid “Comparisons” was a prime example, two of SP’s finest acolytes with a bristling, spitting slab of aggravation marshalled into funky frabjous phat waves by producer Bad Habitz — early in 2013, Split P's are gonna drop something massive in your ear and put Bristol back on Britain's musical map once and for all. And what various dicks in NW1 think will simply not matter for shit.

Of course if it was purely musical, the metropolitan elite’s adaptation of the trappings of peasantry to flog the values of stoutness and sturdiness and ‘heart’ to the heartless would be annoying but at least easily ignored. What’s made it so tough in 2012 to be sanguine or resigned is that perhaps for the first time in my life, pop is purely and absolutely regurgitating the clichés and lies of government, happily promulgating the notion of music as neutered & essentially harmless soundtrack to the big society. And so government and press can keep up the talk of ‘fairness’, can keep victimising the poor and disabled, can keep the immigration-rhetoric at a constant pitch of ‘toughness’ all utterly unchallenged by anyone in music. When I was 17 I had Public Enemy to ask the questions, answer some, take your anger and show what it could be turned into. Right now, if I was 17 it’s quite conceivable that I’d have nothing musically doing that for me, and it’d be no surprise if that anger started getting sucked up, my past present & future explained, by someone with a more ferocious sense of ideology, perhaps even religious, a danger that’s evermore likely the longer pop opts out of the battle and merely seeks its precarious foothold in commerce.

 If I was lucky, before I started acting in my own movies, stepping on to the odd bus with the odd pipe bomb, someone woulda directed me towards  Phoenix Da Icefire’s “Cinematic” a wide-screen steadicam prowl across PDI's rampaging imagination, the music laced together with hypnotic guile by Croydon boy Strange Neighbour. (Go dl the debut album 'The Quantum Leap' toot-sweet if you give anything approaching two fucks about the most vital UK music being made right now and be proud).

If  I was lucky, someone woulda pushed Joker Starr’s “Too Many Not Enough” on  Flukebeat at me with a shove and a snarl. "Not enough producers, too many rappers becoming like actors” - pertinent, incisive verbals from JS and a great sunkissed minimal production from Appa Tight sealing one of the highlights from Starr's debut LP 'Blood Ren', Appa propelling the vocals into a multi-tapped delay firestorm in all the right places.

Or someone woulda slipped me Piff Gang’s “Tanqueray And Piff” - produced by Sumgii outta LDZ so you know what kind of delicious derangement you're letting yourself in for here — a beautifully strung-out, almost levitating track, genuinely summing up that feel of being so high and fucked up that you're living on a plateau of blissed-out autopilot unsteadiness you have absolutely no desire to leave any time soon. Oozing bass, shimmering ghostly keys, roach-croaked vocals, utterly brilliant, the best UK dub-hop this side of Trellion & Sniff.

Yeah, fuck, Trellion & Sniff, not seen them mentioned fucking ANYWHERE but without a doubt their ‘North Luna’ EP was one of the most stupendous moments of the year-  slo-mo spooked out genius from Sheffield's finest sustained ‘til you start falling apart, the ultra-minimal, maximally-unsettling feel of an old-skool Underdog production for Output Records, peppered by T&S's typically twisted ("bullet to your mullet") poesy. Fantastic fucked-up uniqueness. 

And if you reeeeally need a British album of the year, alongside T&S check out the awesome Kingdom Of Fear ‘s s/t debut on the ever-mighty YNR. Was wondering when Edan-style psyche-hop was really gonna start belching forth from the heads & harddrives of this fair isle and then here came Jehst, and Kashmere & Jazz T and a cast of fellow YNR psychonauts with one of the most stunning, startling, brainjangling releases of 2012, inspired by Hunter S.Thompson and just as far out, freaky, fearless and compelling as auld King Gonzo himself.

Drugs key see. Druggy year. Fuck all else to do. Ears open, you’d have  heard plenty of British music this year that actually seemed to speak about a reality you could understand, and the unreality of that reality, with music that uncannily and eerily matched the groggy fog of narcosis and despair that was most of our lot in 2012, that’s increasingly becoming our autopilot fug of choice through these desperate hours and dreadful final days for  the capitalist dialectic.  None of it has made any of the end of year lists, none of it has spiritually accepted the pistoning tumescenses of Osborne & Cameron plunging into its collective anus nuts-deep. But it’s out there, and it doesn’t give a fuck about the prevailing bourgeoisie impulses of curatorship and regression strangling the life out of the rest of British pop. Rarely on a label, for many of these artists and us listeners Bandcamp’s been a fkn godsend this year. Eeeh Gee if you ain’t heard Sonnyjim & Wizard “The Executive Branch”,  a staggering 10-tracker from the hardest working lunatic in rap with typically brilliant Brummagem rhyming from Sonny and  great production throughout from Wizard, drop a few dimes and snap this shit up sheeple.


Likewise if you didn’t hear The Natural Curriculum EP0003/0004. Go get pronto. From Manc-genii Dayse & Aver (if you ain't checked out their 'EP0001' yet do so ghost-haste) — this keeps up the tension, stealth and stunning sonics they've made their own, great rhymes from D & A as well as Chalk & Sykes, unsettling future-fuckery on the decks from Omas & 13. Stunning, superb music from one of the UK's most unjustly unheralded names. Like I said, get on it.

In a sea of Britpop mediocrity and collaborative palliness across the stage-school masseev lovely to hear, in total contrast,  Spida Lee (whose “Carriacou Jack” EP was one of the summers other highlights)  spit something like “You Can’t Rap Pt. II”, the ever-dependable Beat Butcha hooking a monstrous beat to some simmering Hermann-esque strings, & heavy-assed doom-funk bass, like some of Marley Marl's darkest '90s productions touched by the hand of RZA.

Alongside Beat Butcha, my fave producer of 2012 had to be Leaf Dog -  Verb-T’s mighty” Said And Done” on the always-engrossing High Focus  a peach perfect example of his work, atmosphere and vibe piped in from Muscle Shoals circa 1966, that perfect Stax blend of grittiness, straight up testifying grit and off-kilter weirdness.

And no look at 2012 would be complete without mention of the mighty Mystro, whose “That Rush” channelled the twin spirits of John Carpenter and Sergei Rachmaninov but ended up spinning on a brilliant ruckus-starting beat peppered with some ace one-string Eastern European/North African thrumming guitar, Mystro's rhymes a typically compelling, deep-yet-delirious rush of adrenaline straight to the synapse. Ace video too.

Already a billion names I’ve no space to mention come to mind. Follow the links, the trails, the shout-outs, the other names. See what spins you. In 2012 and into 2013, I commend and command your attention towards these oddbods. The true sound of the UK, the true folk music of our time. Not a fuckin’ Alt-J fan among them and none of them are gonna end up running a fkn dairy-farm or metaphorically rolling organic meatballs across a plate with their noses towards Sam Cameron. Music that doesn't prefer to ignore politics and thus through sheer cowardly silence wave through the seeping notion that the hard-working poor must hate the workless poor, music with compassion for ALL of our twisted apprehensions of the slide into doom, music that at the very least apprehends that doom and responds to it with a ferocious escape, or equally ferocious anger. 

Our finest 'creatives', Alt-J or 4 Walter Softies
If we’ve been made more and more aware this year of how the disproportionate influence of posh cunts in politics is ruining all our lives we have no reason to accept the same skewiff slant of influence in pop, our pop, the pop we no longer have to depend on fucking majors to give us or the mainstream press to tell us about. Under the guise of ‘organic’ creativity privileged youth will continue to preside over what officially passes for British culture in 2013, carefully mentoring our ‘progression’ back to the same imperial class structures and strictures of the Victorian era, and then, their fans will form bands and the hierarchy and inheritance will simply be reified permanently. A grim future only if you allow yourself to give a fuck, accept those difficult-to-shake cultural habits that push you towards consensus and the illusion of zeitgeist. In the face of saturation, of SO MUCH music, the natural filter becomes WHO you know, who you’re pals with – and we shouldn’t be surprised that British Music, as delivered to us by the majors and media multinationals is coming from an increasingly narrowing pack of pricks whose dads all shop at the same boutique deli-counter. In 2013 let’s reject that entirely, let’s spotlight and condemn that nepotism wherever it occurs and focus on that British music that is truly, desperately, anguishedly, disturbingly, derangedly, deliriously British in the most glorious, fucked up, diverse way possible. No other attitude will be up to the job, or up to the fantastic music that will be created in the UK in 2013. I declare 2012, in many ways a shitty year for life and a great great year for music, OVER. See you on the other side. 

Monday, 10 December 2012


(Actually not that different from the version run by those lovely people at the Quietus but enuf T.Rex completists whined about their fave track 'Ballrooms Of Mars' not getting a mention so here's the full version.  Non-Marc obsessives may well not notice any difference) 

I should declare an infatuation – this album is exactly as old as me and for 25 of its 40 years I have loved it unreservedly. This can't be a review of the album because if you need to be told whether 'The Slider' is any good or not you've clearly never had your Marc moment, the moment when your soul just opens up another antechamber where only his warmth and powers can reside, just here next to your heart tucked in with a grin. Surprising how many people haven't, how so many are still in hock to the press' worst habits about Marc, see him as punch line or pale imitator of more dependable innovators like Bowie. My first TRUE Marc moment, even if the initial devastations of 20th Century Boy & Solid Gold Easy Action (from that classic mid 80s white-sleeved Best Of) hadn't already wrought their wreckage across any possibility of calm or level-headedness about this man, was from an album my sisters friend had nicked from HMV in his big self-designed robbing pocket. It was a record called Electric Warrior and it was the first, second and last tracks that held me to a flame, the stealth and shimmy of Mambo Sun, the way Cosmic Dancer physically turns your heart inside out, the way Rip Off had a coda that was just something I'd never heard ANY band do before, this gorgeous hung caesura of drone strings n raga-sax and the cubist-boogie bedlam that it evanesces out from – THAT was my first Marc moment, the moment I twigged this wasn't about 'wizardry' or 'elfin' magic, it was about real, disciplined, collaborative magic and Marc simply wrote songs like no one else. It’s a Marc moment when you realise you’re not gonna have to just admire his craft, but let in and love his style, which infected everything from the top of his locks to the soles of his brothel creepers to the curious, wonky, way he wrote, to the brilliantly simple, massively educational/inspiring way he played guitar. Knowing the president’s weird he’s got a burgundy beard, seeing  the girl dance with the manskin pants at the governor’s ball, Marc marshals your vision in sound and word, pulls you close to his own strut, the cut of his own post-mod, unconvinced, last-gasp, knowingly futile and therefore committedly absolute moves of resurrection for rock’n’roll. 

The Slider I came to later, and initially found it too eggy. Too rich. Too much sugar. I missed the bonehead repetition and finely-finessed heaviosity of Mambo Sun & Planet Queen, found too many songs seemingly attempting to replicate equivalents on Warrior - considered Mystic Lady merely an attempt to recapture the wonder of Cosmic Dancer, Main Man toying so closely with the same melodies as Life’s A Gas . But there were a couple of tracks that with total immediacy robbed me of any faculty other than slack-jawed drooling, the angular ferocity, nuclear thunk and amp-stack avalanche of Buick McKane and the truly demented time-sig fuckry of Chariot Choogle. And cos I loved them, and to get to them you had to hear most of both sides, slowly everything else on the record came to eclipse anything that had come before. Realised my fatal mistake was to see the Slider in relation to Electric Warrior. One is an announcement. The other is perfection of that initial statement, and a deeper wider exploration of its creator as a result, something in which everyone, not just Marc, steps (and tightens) up their game, hones the perfect surface to contain the increasingly heated & confused interior, keep the dream impossibly even more rock-solidly intact than it had been before. That's the odd journey tripped by The Slider, in contrast to rock'n'roll's usual habits of wastage and loosening, it's an album of progression that actually makes for shorter songs, writing drawn-taut to impact, absolutely every last trace of bearded meandering razorcut & jettisoned. This is Marc’s first full-tilt attempt to sustain a pure pop impetus over the course of a whole album and there can be no question, as Metal Guru careens itself into your day like the great big walloping slab of wonder it eternally is, that he’s gonna go harder, faster, deeper than he ever has before.

““I like my songs to be durable to the ear and exciting to the mind. My lyrics always come before the music. Repetition comes into my songs a lot because I think my lyrics are so obscure that they need to be hammered home. You need to hear them eight or nine times before they start to make sense. I don't see anything wrong with that” – Marc, interview, 1972.

Metal Guru,  here given an extra physicality and space by Visconti’s amazing remastering job (throughout, this is like returning to an old friend who’s improbably got better-looking in the intervening two-score years) is a song of self-regard, a dawning awareness that the stars and starlets Marc always sang about might now be gathering around his own flame, the question ‘is it you’ (alongside ‘oh yeah’, the line you sing the hardest) surely addressed to himself, surely sounding himself out about his readiness for superstardom. Almost to balance out this narcissism, the sumptuous Mystic Lady would seem to be addressed outwards – in fact it’s clearly again sung to the mirror, “the people in your life are cruel/keep on riding that hard road/the lovers in your life are few/keep on riding that hard road”. This is not the man who made Warrior, this is a man who’s learning how to hide, who’s had to learn how to live with hatred (the snobbery/snideness of Marc’s critics early on is still startling), who’s trying to find his own private plateau where his visions can be enacted. The hippy/free-festival scene which had birthed him had revealed its own reactionary snobbery since he’d pulled the Judas Dylan move of going electric – he was now, truly, out on his own.

Hippies aren't consumers and the records we made didn't sell very well. I wasn't really aware of the charts but I knew that I was getting bored with the music. I was bored with not being recognised. I wanted to make an impact because there mightn't even be a world left in ten years. So I went electric for 'Ride a White Swan' and put on a string quartet. The record company didn't think that it would sell at all but I was sure it would. It did after being played to death at the Isle of Wight festival. John Peel thought we'd sold out and I can see now that he was helping himself more than us. He needed an obscure group he could use and we were that group. He didn't like 'Ride a White Swan' at all. I think he was paranoid that we would do anything that was even remotely commercial. I haven't seen him since and he certainly never plays our records now" – Marc, interview, 1976.

Rock On, The Slider, and Baby Boomerang, like the divinely lopsided Baby Strange on the flip, lay bare Marc’s method, or rather the way he couldn’t help but derail the straight-ahead & methodical with his own curious mix of abilities. Whilst I normally abhor the glut that box-sets provide, the demo versions (on disc two) of these songs do actually reveal exactly the roots and tangles Marc went through to create them. On the one hand each is a conventional rock song, based on the kind of keynote musicians (Leadbelly, Robert Johnson) he always carried with him, the old songs he always loved. In 72, when asked what singers he liked, he was proudly out of touch with the white mainstream who loathed him so much: “I like a lot of old blues singers, you know Bessie Smith is an old blues singer I liked a lot, you know. I can’t really think of anyone, Robert Johnson maybe, someone like that, but I can’t… no contemporary singers.  When I’m in America I tend to listen to more black stations”. Unlike virtually all the other blues-copyists and Eric C***ton-style authenticity-merchants then rehashing vintage motifs however, Marc knew to keep the vital element of surprise, freakishness, ODDITY alive in his reimaginings of those classic patterns. Anyone hearing ‘King Of The Delta Blues Singers’ or the ‘Rockin Chair’ album knows how fucking WEIRD those old guys’n’gals were, how they managed to always so massively problematize the supposed musical dead-end they were operating in, blow those 12 bars to infinity. So Rock On is peppered with strange crooks and bends, queer turnarounds and maverick twists that genuinely put it, in a song writing sense, closer to the blessed singularity of yr John Lee Hooker’s & Howlin’ Wolfs than anyone who could play at a billion miles an hour could even dream of. In fact, in an era of plank-wankers intent on turning the blues into a virtuosity contest, Marc’s insistence on peopling those old types of music with his own cast of characters and his own heteroclite musical imagination created an entirely new sound. Playing to Marc’s limitations as a guitar player, The Slider’s nagging treble jabs and Baby Boomerang’s loose-limbed boogie-funk emerge as a whole new peculiar form, Visconti zeroing in on Marc’s unique idiosyncrasies and applying them to the entire arrangement.

Well, Marc was a very innocent guitarist, and sometimes he would play very strange things. In his mind, he might be playing a blues lick, but it might not have the flatted 3rd, or something would be not bluesy about it. If I heard a nice phrase that he played, that was a little unusual, I would amplify it by doubling it on the strings. Suddenly we would have a motif derived from his playing. I would then write it up, harmonize it, double it in octaves, and have the string players do their parts. I would even notate the bend, if Marc’s playing had a bend in it. The British string players who live in London are some of the best in the world. They would listen carefully to the way Marc played a phrase, and would say, “Okay, we’ll play that. That’s cute.” In the end it sounds as if we were being extremely clever, like it was the original concept but the string writing was always an afterthought. It was amplifying something that was raw and gutsy, that I would then turn into a sophisticated sound. Round that time, American bands were very proud of their musicianship. People in America could really play. There were very serious drummers and guitarists, and singers with great voices. They were also bearded, had long greasy hair and wore jeans on stage. Whereas with Marc, there was always a touch of fluff—a bit of phoniness—in the sense that he put a lot into his visual performance. It was the era of glam rock, and when Marc came over to America wearing glamorous clothes and makeup, nobody was ready for that. Bowie had the same problem, originally. Also, Marc wasn’t the world’s best guitarist. People saw something not genuine in him. And once that was sniffed or perceived, the American public and American media didn’t take him seriously.” – Tony Visconti, interview, 2008

Spaceball Ricochet is perhaps the most personal, moving song on ‘The Slider’, summing up Marc’s inherent compassion, yet also his increasingly precarious sense of disconnection with his own phenomenon. “With my Les Paul/ I know I’m small but I enjoy living anyway/ book after book I get hooked/ every time the writer talks to me like a friend/Deep in my heart there's a house that can hold almost all of you – it sounds, amidst the clamour around it, like a quiet, hopeful statement of a gentle intent, a tiny moment of levitational poise within which he regains his breath, focuses his spirit. After that brief respite, the overload continues on Buick McKane, clearly possessed of the same unhinged hunger as Rip Off, a riff that moves with the beautiful imbalance and unselfconsciousness of an animal, teeth bared, body heaving, waiting to pounce. Telegram Sam, that kicks off side two like it’s wearing seven-light-year boots, might’ve become so ingrained in your mind that you’ve stopped actually listening to it but here again the remastering reanimates the recognizable – the tactile tremendous rerub Visconti’s bought to bear on the whole album really pulls things to the surface like never before, the rhythm section locked together in supremely relaxed, maximally impacted putsch. Perhaps the best song about an accountant to ever get to number 1, Sam really emphasises the collaborative nature of what makes so much of The Slider work - when Bolan growls “Me I funk” it’s believable cos he’s backed by Bill Legend, Mickey Finn & Steve Currie, one of the best and most underrated rhythm sections in pop history – the b-vox by maverick genii ex-Turtles Flo & Eddie seal it all to your heart, everyone, including Marc, willing to step off & out the spotlight when necessary, pop perfection the clear ideal. Rabbit Fighter, like EW’s Lean Woman Blues  initially daunted me with its explicit blooze-classicism but unlike Lean Woman, it transforms its sources again through the eccentricity Marc brings – the strung-out orchestration,  the sheer ugliness of the solos, the killer homage to another of Marc’s unlikely heroes – “Moondog’s just a hero to the end”. 

Ballrooms Of Mars pulls a common trick on The Slider, the insertion of a discordant chord whose resolve becomes the pivot of the whole song, and winds up with a fantastic mess of solos that pisses pure gold from a great height on the legion of more-accomplished musicians who were contemporarily boring rock’n’roll to death. Visconti again: “That was one where we did about five guitar takes. Any one of them could have been the right take, or I could have made a composite from all of them. But just for laughs, I threw up all five faders. We had the solos on five separate tracks, and when we heard them together, Marc and I just looked at each other and said, "That’s it. That’s the way it’s going to go down." So that's how I mixed it, with all five takes mixed together. Marc had no idea, as he was playing these improvised solos, that we would end up using them that way. But when we did, it was GLORIOUS.Chariot Choogle still totally pillages my dome – quite why they thought it’d be a good track to sell the T.Rex idea to Americans is beyond me, so asymmetric is its lunge, its Barrett-like cock-eyedness far too psyche for the times it came to save, the lyrics another she/he/her/me four-way dialogue between Marc’s self-image, real persona, public face and private conviction. You know who you are. Gonna walk upon the waters go ooh ooh yeah. The promo film for ‘The Slider’ that features ‘Chariot’ and ‘Buick’ is part of the extras here, which also include a gorgeous sheet-music book, badges, fan-club letters, a sew-on patch (!), concert tickets, an extra disc of demos and out-takes, and a DVD with a long exhaustive interview with Visconti as well as TV footage from TOTP and ITV, all from roundabout the time ‘The Slider’ came out. Where ordinarily I find re-issues full of too many pointless distractions, a dispelling of mystery and an unnecessary fleshing out of what’s usually best enjoyed in its concise, original form – this box set is so beautifully appointed, and thoughtfully put together . . . man, if you can afford it, get it. 

At the centre of it all is the album itself, on lovely 180g vinyl and the 3 7”s that accompanied it (including the tracks ‘Cadillac’, ‘Thunderwing’ and the fab ‘Lady’ – all of which were previously only available as b-sides) – these still exert a command and control on you and your heart rate from the moment you drop a needle on ‘em, Ringo’s blurry cover-shot all you need to look at, if your eyes aren’t shut from trying to hit those notes. And as Main Man spins you out on the last reel, you get in real close with Marc, you hear where he’s at, and you want to stay, and see if he can survive, still now, even as you know where and how this man would end : “is there a sane man anywhere anywhere?/ got giraffes in my hair and i don't care no i don't care, no i don't care/as a child i laughed a lot o yes i did o yes i did/now it seems i cry a lot/oh tell me true don't you?”. Yeah, I do Marc. You’re not a punchline. You’re not a wannabe. You’re a bloody little pop genius and ‘The Slider’ is your finest hour. If you’re in any doubt, you don’t deserve it. A latebreaking contender for reissue of the year. Submit forever again. 

Various Artists - The Roots Of Rockabilly 1940-1953: Rompin’ And Stompin’ album review(originally from the Plan B Magazine website)

Various Artists - The Roots Of Rockabilly
1940-1953: Rompin’ And Stompin’ 
(originally from the Plan B Magazine website)

Hardrockin Gunter 

 This 3-CD set of country, blues, gospel and bluegrass from the years that formed the musical mindset of most of those who’d create rock’n’roll has swallowed up a month in my life. Not just because, from a musicologist angle, it provides a fascinating link between the impoverishment of the war years through the explosion in indie labels and electronic instrumentation post-war through to the genesis of rock’n’roll. Not just because you find that country blues actually already explored all kinds of later musical trends in the Forties (including, unbelievably dub as on the mindblowing echoplexed madness of the Davis Sisters’ ‘Rock A Bye Boogie’). No, The Roots Of Rockabilly slays still because I got a woman. And she done broke my heart. And these songs are pitiless. The human heart’s history is ancient and always the same and these motherfuckers, mainly skint, barely literate hicks, broke it down with remorseless honesty and consummate artistry. Songs that pierce you with their unmannered straight-talking accuracy. Love laid livid. And it’s tuneful with it. And brilliantly concise and clear and wonderful and nuts and innovative and depraved and blissfully innocent.

Maddox Bros & Rose 
The Carlisles

CD1 blows your head off: The Carlisle’s hysterically puerile ‘T’Aint Nice To Talk Like That’ and ‘Iz Zat You Myrtle’, the aforementioned Davis Sisters scarifying Pabloesque exploration, Chet Atkins ‘Oh By Jingo’ (an influence on ‘Bewlay Brothers’ perchance?), the wonderfully named Hardrock Gunter’s ‘Perfect Woman’ (“built like a coca-cola bottle with the eyes of a whale”), Maddox Bros & Rose’s yodelling proto-Danielson ‘New Mule Skinner Blues’. And that’s just 6 tracks out of 25. CD1 is pretty much a dazzling primer in the weird avenues and diamond-tight corners country blues/western swing/ hillbilly was revving around after the war, signposts to Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones and everyone else already firmly planted and ready to blow.

Moon Mullican 
CD2 takes the journey further. The explicit connection rockabilly formulated ‘tween C&W and blues (and jazz & boogie-woogie & gospel) is made plain by big stomping stormers from mean-sounding badasses like Hank Penny, Jimmy Murphy, Jack Cardwell and Moon Mullican (who’s ‘Pipeliner Blues’ is as risqué as you care to make it). Lee Bell’s ‘Beatin’ Out The Boogie (On The Mississippi Mud)’ could be seen as a definition of rock’n’roll. Even tracks as ancient as The Hot Lips Page Trio’s ‘Thirsty Mama Blues’ seem to throb with an inner wail and hunger for both musical and personal extremity that rock’n’roll was lucky enough to pretend it patented nearly two decades on. His woman’s an alcoholic, he wishes she’d left him on the shelf so he could ”have that liquor for myself” – tell me that ain’t still painfully accurate.

Hot Lips Page

Elmore James
Dig the depths of CD3 as well: a flawless collection of post-Delta/pre-r’n’b blues from Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson and others that makes the most perfect suite of late night misery songs I’ve ever heard. Baby Face Leroy’s ‘Red Headed Woman’ would tear Jon Spencer a new asshole to go with that one he talks out of.

Baby Face Leroy

Throughout all this music, mostly recorded by itinerant travelling performers on a shoestring and put out by tiny labels for specialised local markets, what you hear isn’t just some of the finest songwriting and playing imaginable. You also hear people proud and pleased to be given the chance to record their music and responding in kind, lashing down the truth in an average of three minutes and sounding like they were having as good a time making it as you are cutting a rug to it. Next time you hear some fucking band whingeing about album ‘pressure’, point them towards this joyful conciseness, this fearless honesty, this masterful, mesmerising collection of characters and their art. Even if your inclination is against paying your dues, we owe these people fuckloads and we might actually learn something about what to demand from music and musicians that’s still wholly relevant today. Thank you Jesus.

Buy it here.