Northland Roller Rink (Inc) was built in 1986. As Roller Rinks go it seems to be a pretty decent one, offering lessons for old and young alike, and catering for freestyle, inline and jam skating. Getting in will cost you five or six Dollars, and another two if you need to rent some skates. Northland’s facilities and staff have earned it a respectable four-and-a-half out of five stars from the readers of Rinktime.
Northland is on the famous 8 Mile road (or ‘8’ as it’s often known locally), which separates the city of Detroit from its suburbs. It’s called 8 Mile road because it’s eight miles from the intersection of Woodward and Michigan Avenue. One mile further into the city you hit 7 Mile road, and so on until you get to downtown. Simple. Town planning enthusiasts can read more on the Mile Road System here.
We knew that Soul Skate would be at Northland prior to arriving in Detroit, and had already sorted out tickets for the event before leaving the UK. As neither a skater nor a resident of Detroit I didn’t know what to expect from Soul Skate, other than that there would be food and Moodymann would be playing records. Generally I only need one out of those two to make a trip worthwhile, so the combination was, as you can imagine, irresistible.
Movement (the Detroit Electronic Music Festival) itself had a predominantly young, white, attendance. Having spent all day with them it was pretty much the type of people I expected to see at Soul Skate. A rollerskating themed extension of the festival, with Moody playing records. This was not the case. On arrival we found ourselves queuing for the extensive security checks and scans with a crowd of all ages. Lot’s of people arrived with their own skates, costumes, wigs and other paraphernalia.
It quickly became clear that this was much more about skating than it was about electronic music from Detroit. What’s more, keenness to take part in a real Detroit experience meant that we’d overlooked a general lack of rollerskating expertise. Putting on the skates and staggering over to a locker to secure my trainers I realised how drunk I was and how fast most people were moving round the rink. However, the music was playing loud and Kenny was drawling over the tannoy, so, when in Rome…
After a single, shamefully slow and unsteady lap I was off the rink and out of my skates. Skating was clear for skaters, and it was time for the less sober and coordinated party goers to get out of the way. There was also free food up on offer while supplies lasted. Freshly de-wheeled we headed off to the snackbar, which also had a healthy line of inflatable hammers, soft toys and other things a skater might need.
By the time we were ready to leave the competition was in full swing, with teams of two to three skaters performing carefully choreographed routines. There were clearly people here for whom synchronized roller-skating was a major past-time. There’s a video of the winning team at the end of this post. The quality of the footage isn’t great but around 2:25 the team pull out some tricks.
Waiting outside for the others I got a light from a couple of guys and chatted to them about the evening. I told them I was here with friends, and we’d mostly come over from London. This was met with a mixture of surprise, confusion and gratitude. ‘Thank you for coming to Detroit.’
As we talked a bit more, about music and the sad pride of the city, the noise of an approaching car grew louder. It sounded like the end of the world. As it rumbled past to get into the car park at the back of Northland I took a picture of its medieval-looking rims. The window rolled down and the driver called me over to see if I wanted to buy any pills. He didn’t give the impression they were very good.
March 24, 2009
Tim Hayter is a friend and record collector of note who may or may not be familiar to some of you. With good ears and a wonderful record collection, he is a trusted source when it comes to quality music across the board. I have asked Tim to get involved in Test Pressing and post the odd song when he feels like it so here we go…
Thomas Dolby is clearly some kind of genius in the studio: you only need to hear production work with Prefab Sprout to realise that. But sometimes the technical genius gets in the way of his songwriting – listen to ‘Hyperactive’ or ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ for evidence. The gimmicks, for me, are distracting.
Not on this track though. It’s a demo of ‘Airwaves’ – cheap drum-machine, treated piano, bass & vocals. No gimmicks. I’ve no idea what it’s about, but I think it’s lovely. From 1980.
Thomas Dolby: Airwaves (Demo)
March 24, 2009
Dave Lee a.k.a Joey Negro a.k.a Raven Maize a.k.a Akabu a.k.a The Sunburst Band a.k.a Doug Willis a.k.a Z Factor a.k.a Sessomato is a leg-end. In his own front room at least. Dave started Republic Records, released great compilations and wonderful twelves, closed Republic, started Z Records and did it all over again. He has safely kept the flame alive for true disco for nearly 25 years and is probably one of the only UK disco producers featured on Desert Island Discs on Radio 4 (as picked by that poisoning chef Heston Blumenthal). I asked David for a mix for Test Pressing and he gave me a cast off that he already has on a player on his site (worth a look) but as it’s Dave the quality is top drawer. Second part to follow soon. Respect is due.
Joey Negro Eclectic Mix: Part One
March 23, 2009
So what better on a Monday in these financially gloomy times to lighten the mood than an old Andrew Weatherall radio show. This one comes from a time (1994 to be precise) when acid jazz almost meant that, Sabres Of Paradise were the new way and trying to be a band (we did try and support), East London was coming alive and techno still had melody and wasn’t split into twenty genres and part of London got the hang of doing what soul and jazz heads had been doing for years – digging. It was almost a balearic revival on a jazz note.
Andrew Weatherall – Kiss FM 1994
March 18, 2009
I love an obituary, mini-biographies that they are, and was discussing with my colleague the other day that it would be great to have a place to pull together obituaries from across the board. Obviously to Test Pressing this means musical heroes and cult figures through time so here we go. First up we are taking a look at the gentle genius of Curtis Mayfield. The following obituary, written by Spencer Leigh, first appeared in The Independent newspaper, and as I couldn’t find a better one here it is as it was published. Following this is a lovely radio show from the good Dr Bob Jones bringing together some of the great mans work – solo, with The Impressions and some of his many productions. This was aired in 1999 on Greater London Radio (GLR), just after Curtis passed away. Press play and read on…
When Curtis Mayfield sang, “I’ve got my strength and it don’t make sense not to keep on pushing”, he was singing his own epitaph. He may not have had much success in the UK record charts, but he is among the most influential musicians of the past 30 years.
Mayfield was born in Chicago in 1942 and was raised by his mother as his father left the family home. He criticised parents who have left the family home and a sense of family pervades his own work. His mother wrote poetry and encouraged his sense of rhythm and verse. In 1996, he dedicated his book of lyrics Poetic Licence to her. Mayfield was singing publicly from the age of seven and was soon teaching himself to play guitar. He commented, “I was writing songs from when I was 12. My songs always came from questions that I need answers for.” He also said, “My fights and arguments, even with God, went down on paper.”
When Mayfield was 14, he met Jerry Butler, who was three years older, and sang with him in a gospel group, the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers. They befriended a vocal group, the Roosters, who had come, chasing success, from Chattanooga to Chicago. Butler joined them as a lead singer and Mayfield sang tenor and played guitar. Their first performances as the Roosters were not successful as the audiences would crow as soon as they heard the name. They became the Impressions and secured an audition with Chess Records. When the receptionist would not let them through, they went to Vee-Jay Records and recorded one of Butler’s songs, a soaring ballad, “For Your Precious Love”, and its style was a considerable influence on the 16-year-old Mayfield.
“For Your Precious Love” made the US Top Twenty but the billing on the record label, “Jerry Butler and the Impressions”, created friction. After a promotional tour, Butler went solo but he retained his friendship with Mayfield who wrote several of his records, notably “He Will Break Your Heart”, a No l R&B hit in 1960, and “Find Another Girl”.
Mayfield with the brothers Richard and Arthur Brooks, Sam Gooden and Fred Cash made further records as the Impressions for Vee-Jay, Bandera and Swirl, but their break came when they signed to ABC Paramount Records in 1961. Their US hit single “Gypsy Woman” contained erotic imagery (“Her eyes were like that of a cat in the dark”) and was the first of many tender love songs that they took on to the charts. Their gospel influence showed in their biggest US hit, “It’s All Right”, which climbed to No 4 in 1963.
Despite the British invasion of the US charts by the Beatles and their acolytes, the Impressions did remarkably well in 1964 and each single was a classic: “Talking About My Baby” (No 25), “I’m So Proud” (14), “Keep On Pushing” (10), “You Must Believe Me” (15) and a stunning arrangement of the gospel song “Amen” (7). Mayfield also wrote for Major Lance and one of the songs, “Um Um Um Um Um Um”, was a UK Top Ten hit for Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders.
With his sublime sense of melody and sensuality, Mayfield could have become a leading pop songwriter, rivalling the tunesmiths in the Brill Building. However, he was impressed by Bob Dylan, who had brought civil- rights issues into popular songs, but Dylan was white and Mayfield wanted to present songs from a black perspective. He believed in the creed “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”, and he idolised Martin Luther King. Both “I’m So Proud” and “Keep On Pushing” reflect his philosophy, but he became more explicit with the years, releasing an inspirational single, “Choice of Colours”, backed with “Mighty Mighty Spade and Whitey”, in 1968. His music was more melodic and less raucous than James Brown’s and, hence, less threatening to a white audience.
Mayfield’s greatest moment is with the stunning “People Get Ready”, a US hit for the Impressions in 1965. It is both a gospel song and an anthem for the civil-rights movement. Bob Marley and Rod Stewart are just two artists who have recorded successful versions.
Mayfield wrote many songs that were successful for other performers, notably “Mama Didn’t Lie” (Jan Bradley), “The Monkey Time” (Major Lance), “I Can’t Work No Longer” (Billy Butler and the Enchanters) and “Just Be True” and “Think Nothing About It” (both for Gene Chandler). Mayfield and his business partner Eddie Thomas set up publishing companies so that he could control his own work and they established their own label, Curtom.
His first solo album, Curtis (1970), was a poignant picture of ghetto life including three of his best songs, “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go”, the UK dance hit “Move On Up” and surely one of the best song titles of all time, “We the People Who are Darker Than Blue”. He followed this with a stunning double album, Curtis/ Live (1971), where his spoken introductions are as moving as his songs.
In 1972 he was asked to score a “blaxploitation movie”, Super Fly. As with Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, the soundtrack was far better than the film and Mayfield used the film, which centred around cocaine deals, to comment on America today. Both “Freddie’s Dead”, which was banned by the BBC, and the title song were US Top Ten hits.
This led to Mayfield’s scoring other black films, often working with other performers. They include Claudine (1972) and Pipedreams (1976), both for Gladys Knight and the Pips, Sparkle (1976) with Aretha Franklin and Let’s Do It Again (1975) with the Staple Singers. He had difficulty with the Staple Singers as their leader, Pops Staples, refused to sing the word “funky” as he disliked its sexual connotations.
Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is a key album of the early 1970s and Mayfield expanded Gaye’s concepts with Back to the World (1973) and the ironic There’s No Place Like America Today (1975). In 1978 he produced a second album for Aretha Franklin, Almighty Fire.
In 1983 Butler, Mayfield, Gooden and Cash reunited as the Impressions for a tour and LP. He toured regularly and he became involved with British politics when he attacked Thatcherism in “(Celebrate) The Day After You”, which he recorded with the Blow Monkeys in 1987. This might have become a significant hit record but it too was banned by the BBC.
In August 1990 Mayfield was paralysed from the neck down when a lighting rig fell on him during a concert in Brooklyn, but he determined to continue with his music. He wrote songs for Erykah Badu and in 1996 was nominated for a Grammy for his album New World Order, which he had had to record one line at a time. In 1998 he contracted diabetes and had a leg amputated.
Mayfield was twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, once as a member of the Impressions and once as a solo performer. In 1998 the Georgia House of Representatives honoured him calling him “an undisputed genius of modern music”.
His songs have been used in contemporary films and Ice-T sampled his “Super Fly” recording for The Return of Superfly in 1990. One of his older songs, “Giving Him Something He Can Feel”, was a hit for En Vogue in 1992. Mavis Staples summarised his work – “There’s a beauty about him, an angelic state. Everything he wrote had a whole lot of love.”
Curtis Mayfield, singer and songwriter: born Chicago 3 June 1942; twice married (10 children); died Roswell, Georgia 26 December 1999.
(Originally published in The Independent on Tuesday 28 December 1999)
Dr Bob Jones: A Tribute To Curtis Mayfield
(Thanks to Andy Crysell for help with the idea.)
March 17, 2009
Adam’s back, and this time he’s aiming his sights firmly at those lovely message boards we all can’t help reading.
10 Ways To Start A Fight On A Music Forum.
1. On a dance board have a user name which involves the words ‘DJ’. ”Funk’ Funky’, ‘The Funkanator’, ‘Funk You For The Music The Songs You’re Playing’ or ‘Kool Bones Frankie Bones’. On a rock board refer to yourself as ‘Sir Rocks A Lot’, ‘Rockarolla’, The Rockanator’ or ‘Cliff Richards’. On Latin boards call yourself ‘Mr Big Bongos’ or ‘You Wouldn’t Believe The Size Of My Bongos’. On a jazz board call yourself ‘Modal Mover’, ‘Pyramid Scientist (nu-jazz lover)’ or ‘Eton educated, for gods sake mum hide the green wellies, we‘re living on the front line here (Sanderstead) listening to Tabitha’s Alice Coltrane triangle solo’ etc…
2. Find out who is the godhead artist or DJ which the message board is built around and announce how they’re not as good as they were. In fact ‘back in the day no one thought they were much cop’.
3. Slag off a radio DJ that specialises in the genre loved by the board or a Heat Celebrity – pick a side first. Are you ‘they are brilliant and really nice in person (I’ve met them loads) and suffer media intrusion’ or ‘culture-sucking vortex piece of shit’.
4. Indicate your support for the Palestinians. Nothing sorts out a complex international quagmire than 30 people whose knowledge stretches to what they’ve heard in a pub, what they remember from a sixth form general studies lesson, or through a friend of a friend who knows someone in Amnesty. You’ll be amazed at how many people who are bang into fidgit house but have never ever posted before, run down some pretty comprehensive pro-Israeli talking points (‘but of course I’m only here to talk about the latest Dubsided release’).
5. Get some key facts about the musical genre the board is all about – wrong. For example, ‘Herman’s Hermit’s owned the States well before the Stones and were mates with Muddy Waters’, ‘Tony De Vit bit his style from Eddie Halliwell’, ‘Balearic started off in Leeds in 1990 at the Shaven Monkey club – I should you know as I was the muppet playing Matt Bianco extended mixes!!!!?!! (lots of laughing emoticons)’.
6. Indicate that Margaret Thatch was not all bad – ‘When Sade sang about the sweetest taboo she wasn’t talking about getting it up the laundry chute but fondly remembering the milk snatcher’.
7. Talk about ‘chicks’. Mention that the old love life is not going to good with vague implications that you don’t understand women but hey does anyone? Use an emoticon of a pacman stabbing a female pacman then an emoticon which is winking. If irate female posters (all three of them) get really stressed just edit their posted responses so they all start, ‘As a woman….’.
8. Big up a track that has never come out and never will cos you made it up and stick Henrik Schwartz’s name behind it as one of his early spec mixes.
9. Indicate that your take on things ‘back in the day’ is VERY different to what people with lots of posts think.
10. If on a UK board, stick up for a region fanatically and include its musical output. Don’t pick the South West as no one gives a monkeys.
March 15, 2009
He did. Whilst pogoing to some daft record playing in our office. And he’s also on this great documentary about Rough Trade by the BBC. From the shop to the label, the creation of the Cartel (the UKs independent music distribution network), bankruptcy, getting back on their feet thanks to The Smiths, bankruptcy again, getting back on their feet thanks to The Strokes, this is a great story with early footage of The Normal, The Raincoats, Scritti Politti, The Fall and others.
As Geoff Travis says, ‘It’s kind of flattering that people are interested in what happened in the past and what used to happen, but that’s not really of much concern to us. We live in the present and the only thing that’s important is what happens now and what happens next’. Seems to be a reoccurring theme with the future makers.
It’s available on the BBC iPlayer until 20th March and is highly recommended. Also available until the same day is a ‘Rough Trade artists at The BBC’ compilation hour.