This comes from an interview with Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter in today’s The New Review magazine (part of the Independent). The passage has been about Mott manager, and later producer of ‘London Calling’, Guy Stevens, and his cavalier attitude to life when they got onto the subject of the band recording in Island Record’s studio.

In early recording sessions with Mott The Hoople the level of criminal damage caused to studios owned by their then-label Island Records, often instigated by their drug-fuelled Svengali, has become legendary.

“When you were in the studio with Guy, he was just frantic. He knew nothing about music. But he did have a propensity to wind you up. He would take you on a flight of fancy; you could feel yourself mentally leaving the building. An hour later, he would go, ‘OK: play.’ And of course you really wanted to play, because you had been listening to this bullshit for an hour. When we were recording ‘Brain Capers’ he arrived in a highwayman’s outfit. And there was a fire in the studio.”

“Who lit it?”

“I don’t know, ” Hunter claims. “But I had to ring (Island Boss) Chris Blackwell. ‘Er, Chris, there has been a bit of a problem in the studio.’ He said, ‘Problem? What kind of problem?’ I told him it had been set on fire. There was a pause. Then he said: ‘Was it really necessary?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said: ‘Fair enough.'”

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Anyone who has been reading Test Pressing for a while knows how much we love the work of Island Records. This piece comes from The Face in April ’84 and is about Jean Baptiste Mondino’s debut release for Island Records. Mondino, as most of you know, is the guy behind those iconic Grace Jones sleeves. I love that story about how when Badarou and all those guys turned up to Compass Point to make those early Grace Jones records that Chris Blackwell had pinned up the visuals Mondino had already made and said ‘we need the music to sound like that’. Anyway, shame Mondino didn’t make more music as it fits into our world perfectly. Love the video too.

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I should really have got Dr Rob to write the introduction to this compilation as he took care of the tracklisting but I forgot to ask so here I go. If I had to pick my favourite record label there would be no doubt it would be Island Records. The breadth of the music, the Compass Point years, the logo and the sleeves – all made with the utmost care.

When Chris Blackwell was at the helm of Island Records the music always seemed to come first. Not only did he own and run the label and have the common sense to sign the right artists (or employ people with great ears such as Muff Winwood and Joe Boyd to do it for him), he also often produced the albums – rounding up groups of complimentary musicians, producers and engineers, and leaving them to get on with the job. He knew exactly where to take Grace Jones when she was a down and out disco queen, and not only trusted Bob Marley with a wedge of money to go and record an album (unheard of in Jamaica at that time) but also knew exactly what was required to take him from the streets of Kingston to the rest of the world. He also gave the world U2 but we’ll forgive him that one for now.

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If you feel like exploring further and want to start with one Island album then my current suggestion (especially with winter arriving fast) would be the deluxe edition of John Martyn’s ‘One World’, worth buying for the instrumental of ‘Small Hours’ (as well as the two tracks featured here). That track just about sums the label up. According to the sleeve notes they were high, it was recorded across a lake at 3 a.m (listen carefully and you can hear the animals) and Steve Winwood was in support on the Moog. Class.

Thanks to Tim H for the Winwood, Martyn’s ‘Blackman At Your Shoulder’ and the B52s.

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Under The Radar

They Call It An Accident

Produced by Chris Blackwell and released in 1983 on Island Records, the soundtrack to the film ‘They Call It An Accident’ is a slightly mixed bag but it does have two lovely Wally Badarou tracks and this, the instrumental ‘Main Theme’, written and performed by Steve Winwood.

Steve Winwood: They Call It An Accident (Main Theme)
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Island Records

If you missed the Island Records documentary on BBC4 it’s well worth taking a look. From the early recordings of jazz artists, Blackwell’s move to London to import ska for the Jamaican communities and eventually the mods, the birth of the pink label and the folk years and his work with Grace Jones and the B-52’s on to modern Island – it’s all pretty well covered. Interviews include Blackwell, Sly and Robbie, Joe Boyd and many of the early employees of Island. There is also some great footage of London in the 60s. It’s interesting seeing how the label worked giving the artists creative space in their own Island studios combined with Blackwell’s eye for the visual aspect of modern music. Not sure how long it’s live for but if you missed it it’s here. As before with the Rough Trade documentary the BBC have also compiled an hour of Island artists playing over the years – check that here.

As a perfect accompaniment here is a mix by Paul Williams (Balearik Soul) of his favourite Island Records/Nassau moments taking in the Thompson Twins, NYC Peech Boys, Wally Badarou, Grace Jones, Roxy Music and Black Uhuru along the way. It’s world music as it should be.

Tracklisting follows.

Island Records Mix By Paul Williams
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