Happy to welcome Andy M back with more stories on island life and a mix of favourite dub sounds.
Saturday night – ‘Soup and sound’ with Dexter Campbell (below), the Ska Professor. Now, as multi-sensory concepts go, soup and sound leaves Jean-Michel Jarre’s son et lumiere trailing in its wake. A low-key downtown bar in Kingston with tables outside, full of characters with stories written all over their faces. Groups of old guys playing dominoes. An old woman in the corner sits on her own all night listening and meditating (or is that sleeping?) to the music. Dexter runs the Echo Vibration soundsystem and at 70 he’s still going strong and regularly tours Europe and Japan. He played an amazing selection of rare-as-hen’s-teeth ska, rocksteady, early roots and jazz all night. The first time in my almost three years in Jamaica that I’ve heard vinyl being played out and a welcome change from the usual diet of dancehall and the canon of 20 reggae classics that gets rinsed out in 30 second/tune doses at most dances. A great night, although I woke up in the morning feeling slightly cheated. The rum had been flowing so freely that we forgot to sample the soup…
Sunday morning – beach cricket with Luciano. The best thing to do when the kids wake you up with a sore head on Sunday is to head half an hour out of town to Fort Clarence beach. A beautiful stretch of white sand, fringed by almond trees and with a little shack that sells the freshest fish. Mid-morning and the beach cricket was in full swing when the bowler’s head was turned by a fragrant aroma and greeted by the sight of Luciano (‘Jah Messenger’, not the minimal DJ) striding through the covers resplendent in a HIM style solar topee, drawing on his pipe.
Sunday night – Beres Hammond in concert. I’m still amazed that there’s not more live music in Jamaica. A lot of the great old artists are more in demand and make more money touring Europe and the US these days. When they do play it’s normally at ‘stage shows’ with 10-20 artists on the bill sharing an unfamiliar backing band. The show always starts late, only leaving time for two or three songs per singer before the next act is rushed on. Thankfully someone has spotted the gap in the market and Pulse have started hosting regular full-length concerts – John Holt and Freddie McGregor in recent weeks were followed by Beres Hammond on Sunday. He put on a great show and had the 500-strong crowd on their feet singing along with every word. Jamaican crowds don’t hold back which I like. My personal highlight was Ken Boothe walking through the crowd, blessing everybody and shaking hands with one hand whilst carrying a burning joss stick in the other.
And finally, I’ve been listening to a lot of dub recently. Sadly it’s disappeared from the music scene here but dub is the foundation…
Andy’s Hi-Fi: Dub Is The Foundation
Tappa Zukie: MPLA Dub
Augustus Pablo: Pablo In The Dance
The Mighty Light Of Saba: Lambs Bread Collie
Wareika Hill Sounds: Tears In Exile
King Tubby And The Aggrovators: Ruffer Version
The Skatalites: Herbsman Dub
Russ D: Spiritual Dub
Jah Shaka Meets Aswad: Aswad Special
Dennis Bovell: Rowing (12″ Version)
Rhythm And Sound With Cornel Campbell: King In My Empire
3 Generations Walking: Midnight Bustling (Midnight Rockers Mix)
Musical Youth: Pass the Dutchie (Special Dub Mix)
December 19, 2009
Catching my reflection in the mirror, I look like an old prospector. I’m in red long-johns to keep out the cold. Lee Marvin in “Paint Your Wagon”. My star has wandered. I’m either getting softer or Tokyo is getting colder. I bought the long johns, or Akapan, from Sugamo a week ago. The red colour is supposed to be lucky. Tradition dictates that you buy them in your 60th year and the place was overrun with gangs of old people focused on this sole purpose. I was bitterly cold. I couldn’t wait another seventeen years.
A nine hour time difference meant I got up at 3 AM this morning, to Skype a mate in the UK, who predictably wasn’t there. Since I was up, I opened an email from sister. “Nan’s taken a turn for the worse. They’ve given her two days left to live”. I called my Mum, who has been caring for my Nan for the last fifteen years. She wasn’t home. I called my sister. Nan had died an hour before. It’s not going to be the best of days. So much for lucky red long johns.
“When my memory wanders, as it does when bad things happen, I put a seashell to my ear and it all comes back……”. No seashells round here. Only shellac.
Ryo Kawasaki is locked in a bolero tarantella in the desert playing jazz-funk as heavy as metal, and I remember a sombrero-wearing dude tripping on a three hour bus journey out of Tokyo. I hear Software noisily getting their sausages sucked and I’m back having sex in Brixton. The acid taking me out beyond the universe. Everything falling away to blackness. It’s Immaterial push the boat out and dance, and drunkard logic has me entering another night in expectation. Shutting out the extremely high probability that it will bring nothing. Liz Frasier sings in glossolalia. Speaks in tongues. The language of heaven is that we all hear want we want to hear.
I am so much younger. We’re driving in a purple Ford escort. Someone’s first car. The girls have yet to sit their O Levels. Hard little bodies, tiny bras and kohl-ed eyes. A bob like Clara Bow. Sex Maniacs or romantics? Out for one more boast, or doomed to act out every film, every fiction, over the next twenty painful years? Youth is a truly beautiful thing. May you find a cunt that fits. Harry Crews` gypsy curse. Forever walking Spanish when she left. A flamenco player wrestles his guitar. Johnny Weissmuller with a rubber crocodile. The African kora carries the melancholy. I don’t remember where I am but I am leaving. A harp swings. A buzzing sax circles in and out of range. A mosquito honing in on its target. An annoyance rising to a scream. A doubt. Regret maybe. Loss. The sound of another empty bottle. Another night on the floor.
Keith Jarrett urges the music on with wordless cries and grunts. No mere dance. All at sea again. Not waving but drowning. Frenzied below the surface. Weather prophets play a penguin café pastoral. I almost pray. I hear the music of a goodbye, and I’m back in Croydon. Putting together my last compilation for a friend before I pack my records to be shipped to Japan. Looking for a brand new start. A lion found me, a week or so later, completely lost, six thousand miles away, in Yodabashi Kamera. I wept my fucking eyes out as I dragged my two boys through the blare, glare and bustle of Akihabara, attempting to sort out a PC, phone and internet connection. Morrison gets sent. The roar somehow stuck in his throat.
5 AM in Tokyo and I’m checking flight availability. Wondering how to cover the child care if I make the trip back for the funeral. Caught between responsibilities to the past and responsibilities to the now. Responsibilities to the dead and to the living. A defiant hymn from the Beach Boys` Holland LP plays. It holds a mad story about moving a studio across continents and the last vestiges of Brian’s genius.
At one end of the market street in Sugamo there was a beggar on all fours like a dog. Eyes fixed on the ground. Hands and feet blue. Vividly reminding me of the “creature” that the woman in the film “The Audition” keeps prisoner in her apartment, he looked like he was in a lot of pain. There are a few homeless doted around the parks and under the highways, but beggars are so rare as to be non-existent in central Tokyo. My wife was crying. The old people didn’t seem to see him. We gave the kids some change to put in the empty paper cup.
Once more for the living.
Tokyo-to kissa Mix #2
Ryo Kawasaki: You Are Like Sunlight
Software: Present Voice
It’s Immaterial: The Better Idea
Cocteau Twins: Pandora
San Sebastian Strings: Gypsy Camp
Dorothy Ashby: Little Sunflower
Pat Metheny: So It May Secretly Begin
Jan Garbreck: I Took Up The Runes
Keith Jarret: Dancin`
Ellis Island Sound: Building A Table
Van Morrison: Listen To The Lion
Beach Boys: Sail On Sailor
November 1, 2009
Test Pressing is happy to welcome to the fold Robert Harris a.k.a Dr. Rob who used to live on these shores but is now in Tokyo with family. Rob is going to be posting the mixes from his Tokyo-to kissa series as well as writing whatever tales he feels like sharing and covering the Japanese scene. And while here – if you are ever trying to track down some rare Japanese vinyl Rob’s your man.
Tokyo to kissa #1
Things were changing as I left the UK three years ago. I figured as a family we had nothing to lose in moving to Japan. But I still found myself, that first year, doing the odd late night solo with a two litre carton of cheap sake. Not missing people or places, but missing times long passed. This mix was made one of those odd nights. I’m listening to it again as I go to pick up my Mum up from Narita. Out over Disneyland. Out over Chiba. Twenty minutes from Tokyo, after the ferris wheel, after the race track, I have no landmarks. Save the music.
Popol Vuh weeps into the world, accompanying Werner Herzog`s wrath of God and pre-dating Eno and Lanois’ “Apollo” and Jack Nitzsche`s “Starman”, both either blatant rip-offs or remarkable coincidences. B.J. Cole’s langid pedal steel sings the lonely song of the humpback whale. A dive into the blue. Bowie and Eno (again) sing the Popol Vuh, a sax betraying their Rock n` Roll roots. I`m not sure if Bowie was referencing Kerouac or those that keep strange hours. Inhabit the night. Outside of the day. I guess the only Beat who still had any currency back then was Burroughs. Bob James stumbles about in a very un-Ireland cod-reggae lilt. Still, the strings hold pictures of green hills. Tokyo is many things but green it ain’t. A breeze blows shiny bird scares in a field of rape scorched by sun. A view once taken for granted. The other side to “Tinsel Town In The Rain”’s disco melancholy. Some songs should be listened to sparingly for fear of getting lost in regret. Upwards and onwards we go. Dr Nishimura told the guy at Flower about The Soft Machine who then passed it on to me. Land of cockayne. Generation of swine. Hugh Hopper RIP. Thomas Dolby sings of obsession. The things we blame love for. A dark mirror holds a secret. Lead soldiers and the scar I wear above my heart. One ballerina too many. Music box wistfulness plays for the lovely but barmy in-and-outta rehab would-be Catwoman Sean Young. Somebody blows a “Betty Blue” line but the “Betty Blue” stories will have to wait for a more appropriate time. A book, maybe. Fuck attack ships on fire. Bladerunners’s dirty `50’s noir of a future isn’t so far from Tokyo`s neon, where red beating robot hearts cover the high rise and all the action takes place in small underground holes. Parties in basements. All night noodle bars set in railway arches. Unmarked hotels.
“Bara Willie”`s crazy synths fill my ears as I come into Narita’s security check. It’s been over two years since I got on a plane. Three years since I`ve been home. Dave Sylvian’s brother and the other guy from YMO, the one with the drip dry eyes, try hard not to sound wounded. And end up resigned. Betsu-ni translates roughly as “not necessarily”. A Big Hard Excellent Fish hits me with the early 90s. A box room in a shared house. Baked potatoes and beans for tea again. Weekends from Thursday night to Monday morning. A bag of pills to sell. The escape from Thatcher’s Britain provided by Acid House about to go pear-shaped. There would be casualties. And we hadn’t managed to change anything. “Where were you?” This last line transforms a list into a poem of wrongs and disappointments. The drugs fucked everyone up. I once went by the nickname of “Bobby Love”, generally, for the love I sold. In tighter circles it was a reference to a failed Rik Mayall sitcom. An E-listed celeb. Davro said “I’d be nowhere without the fans”. “Bobby love, you are nowhere.” PCO do the soundtrack to a thousand building society and bank ads. Arto Lindsay`s DNA guitar spirals free.
I get to the North Terminal and I`ve got John Daly’s mix of “Feel The Earth” on to try to wake me from my past. Hypnotic percussion gives way to nasty acid snarling. Airports are such a transient place. I always feel like picking up a stranger. All that death in the air. Death, excitement, and relief. Coming out of limbo. Waiting in Arrivals, over-hearing conversations as the KLM flight unloads I`m wondering if it`s possible to speak Dutch with an American accent. I try to guess where people are from as they come through the gate, based on how they are dressed. Most of the people traveling to Japan are young, which means they all look like cunts to me. Silver week and its festivals are just around the corner. I guess a few of them must be in bands.
Mum’s gone now. We had two weeks of pushing her up mountains in Nasu and Karuizawa in a chair she wasn’t in three years ago. Flu outbreaks, Japanese panic and school closures mean I’ve had little time for anything other than the kids since then. Isolated`s a place. Nasu’s isolated. Nothing but forest. Tall thin trees that shut out the sun. Nothing but forest, and sporadic outposts of old people. Lonely’s just a word. It’s up to you the meaning you attach to it. With a head full of memories and music it don’t mean much.
Lacrime Di Rei – Popol Vuh
Window On The Deep – BJ Cole
Subterraneans – David Bowie
Women Of Ireland – Bob James
Heatwave – Blue Nile
Lotus Groves – Soft Machine
I Scare Myself – Thomas Dolby
Bladerunner (love theme) – Vangelis
Bara Willie – Les Amabassadeurs Internationaux
Betsu Ni – Yukitori Takahasi
Imperfect List – Big Hard Excellent Fish
Perpetum Mobile – Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Amore – Ryuichi Sakamoto
EDIT: Rob also hosts a show on Samurai FM which is highly recommended. Check it here when you get a minute. Nice one – Ed.
May 13, 2009
If you’re interested in reading about everyday life in the city that gave us some of the greatest music and cars in recent history, detroitblog is well adding to your RSS.
Originally started as way of sharing news from home with some friends who had moved away, Detroitblog is maintained by an anonymous journalist, who reports on people he meets and abandoned buildings he explores. It’s a mixture of articles that were originally published in the author’s column in the Metro Times (which focus on how life goes on despite the grinding effects of poverty, crime and urban decay) and stories of adventures inside the many abandoned buildings around the D.
Good stuff on there at the moment about the struggles of one bait shop owner against a millionaire business man intent on building a bridge, the hard life of a crusading strip club manager, and a Russian-Jewish gangsters’ hangout turned steam room and swingers’ club…
April 8, 2009
At the flea market near the Dry Bridge in Tbilisi I meet Aleksander, a former opera singer and nuclear physicist who now spends his time selling random bits and bobs, including a few records. I’m glad to find one with Hamlet Gonashvili, whose hypnotic version of the Georgian folk song “Orovela” (below) I find absolutely fascinating. Who knew that a capella could sound so similar to binaural beats?
I also meet Robert, another music lover who sells records at the market. He invites me to his family’s nearby flat for coffee, cake and a chance to go through some more of the records he has for sale. The walls are covered with posters and there are records everywhere, including on the balcony. Robert puts on “Klaus Schulze Live in Poland” and turns up the volume.
It sounds great on the old Soviet sound system, but unfortunately this particular record is not for sale. We listen to lots of other stuff, some great and some horrible, and I end up buying a weird mix of Hungarian funk, Czech beat, Bulgarian prog, Polish disco, Baltic cosmic, Armenian jazz, East German italo and whatnot. Indeed a parallel musical universe!
Hamlet Gonashvili: Orovela
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 12, 2009
A good friend of Test Pressing, ‘The Correspondent’, has recently moved to Georgia, a small country located between Europe and Asia. It is bordered by the Russian Federation to the north, Azerbaijan to the east, Armenia to the south, and Turkey to the southwest. We asked him to keep a diary for us covering his new life, the situation over there, and the people that he meets along the way. Over to ‘The Correspondent’…
“Today is the eighth of March, International Women’s Day, and I therefore propose the first toast to all the women in the world”. Spartak raises his glass with home-made wine and the rest of us at the table join in. As is customary in Georgia – according to some sources the birthplace of wine making some 7,000 years ago – the glasses are downed in one go, and almost before they are put down on the table again they are refilled by our friendly host. I take a quick look at the table: bread, cheese, sausages, omelette with a special sauce made of plums, small fishes from Batumi down by the Black Sea, and pickled vegetables of all sorts, including jonjoli, a delicious flower-looking one that I’ve never seen outside of Georgia.
Suddenly the sound of an explosion penetrates the air and with South Ossetia only a few kilometers away I do feel a bit uncomfortable and look nervously at Spartak. But he just puts on a slightly sad smile and sighs: “nothing to worry about, we hear that more or less every day. Probably some kind of exercise. Or just bored soldiers.”
Perhaps he knows what he’s talking about. In 1985 he did his military service in the Soviet Army and was stationed near Lake Baikal in Siberia, where the temperature by the way goes down to below -50° during the long winters. As many Georgians, Spartak speaks Russian as his second language. So do I and that’s the reason why I am in Georgia since about a month ago monitoring the situation after last summer’s war with Russia.
Spartak is a big, good-hearted farmer in a remote village up in the mountains near the administrative boundary line that now divides South Ossetia from the rest of Georgia and because of the war he can no longer sell his products in the market that is on the wrong side of the line on the map. “Life’s tough, but we’ll survive.” It didn’t take long after we arrived in the village until we met Spartak, who almost immediately invited us to his home, “a much better place to discuss things than out in the rain”.
It’s rude to not accept an invitation in Georgia and even worse to not participate in the toasting that plays such a big part of the Georgians’ well-known hospitality. Luckily I manage to just sip on my glass when the next toast comes, this time for peace. Spartak tops my glass up and we have another toast for our health. We talk about the conflict and how life in the village has changed, then have a toast for children all over the world. And another one for my little nephew who was born just the night before. And of course one for our friendship. Then one for ourselves.
There are a few more before Spartak reluctantly accepts that we have to leave and continue our work. I’m glad I’ve managed to just sip my way through the last few toasts and even more so that our driver managed to persuade Spartak that he could only drink lemonade. As we drive away on the same dirt road that took us to the village I can’t help thinking about how unnecessary conflicts like this really are. I study the amazing landscape and think about how beautiful it will be when spring comes in a month or so. I’ll definitely try to go back then.