Thursday, September 25, 2008

Psapp my bitch up!

Most people probably haven't heard of Psapp. They'll know the music of course; every time they watch Gray's Anatomy and go "oh I like this theme tune" they are psapping, to use the proper verb. That said any American fan of the band would have been sorely tried by the band's refusal to play said song on their last tour of the States; something that may well have undermined their push for the peak of Commercial Mountain.

That said this band is wonderful. Like a cuddly puppy that bites, or your favourite woolen pullover that always smells of home and baked bread and cigarettes. Their first outing, Tiger My Friend, was a lo-fi delight that heavily featured squeaky toys and off kilter melodies. It owed more to the worldview of songwriter Galia Durrant, a poet and beauty of some renown, who's illustrations have adorned all the sleeves for their albums. Their first album for Domino seemed to be a more desperate affair, as if they were trying just that bit too hard to be grown up. Who the hell wants to grow up?

Unfortunately for Psapp they had to go out and tour that album because that's what groups have to do when they get proper record deals, and believe me it's tedious to the max. Everyday you climb onstage and replicate the same set you played the night before to a different group of people. Afterwards there's always another party with a bunch of people who think they know you becasue they've read an interview and heard your singles. For artists who have a little more to say than the usual "we fuck girls we do" kind of rock or rap music it can be debilitating. There are moments onstage when a vocalist can find themselves thinking of doing the laundry rather than performing because the whole event has become just like any other job; one to be handled on auto-pilot rather than something that is an artistic statement. This is what happened to Psapp.

Galia came back to London completely disenchanted with music, and the business of music. Unfortunately for her she had believed that making music was an artform, which it should be, but in taking it out onto a gruelling set of tour dates her delicate, thoughtful, transcendent music became the soundtrack to people drinking, talking and requesting the TV theme. Those of us who know and love her wondered if she'd ever make music again. And she has, and it's great.

The Camel's Back is a better album than both previous outings. Carim Clasmann, producer and co-writer, has crafted a soundscape as beguiling as Tiger but with greater muscle; it puts flesh to the saying "the things that do not destroy me make me stronger". It's as if Psapp have rested, taken note of where it all went wobbly and thrown away any doubts or prevarication. This has original written through it like a stick of seaside rock.

From the life affirming I Want That, kicking of the proceedings, the album draws you in like a strip club barker. Songs like The Camel's Back, Screws and Homicide demand respect. This is an album of rare quality that deserves adulation and garlands. It probably won't get the attention it should because some dreadful fucking covers artist who has dribbled out of the X Factory will release their latest karaoke effort in the same week and Sony Warners EMI will put their millions behind safe pop. This, on the other hand, is real pop. Buy this, don't buy that. In fact buy it here at Domino. Belive me you'll love me for it.

Now all Galia and Carim have to do is turn down the demands to tour. What's the point? Play a few boutique shows and meet some beautiful people, go on telly or do interesting stuff; but don't go "on the road". You're not a rock band and you really don't need the hassle and the expense.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Forever soul.

Probably the most influential song-writer and record producer of the modern era has died. Along with Barrett Strong he penned the genre defining hits for Motown that included Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Grapevine and Cloud Nine. On Rolling Stone he was the first to tape loop a bass line in order to create the hypnotic effect that underpins that whole song; in effect introducing the concept of sequencing many years ahead of its time.

Before he turned Motown around he'd been a pool hustler. How cool is that? Without Norman there would be no modern urban sound, things would sound different in this world of ours.

His production techniques gave rise to the whole area of psychedelic soul that laid the foundations for Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Stevie Wonder's immense trilogy, Talking Book, Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life. He broke down boundaries between musical styles and along with Sly Stone opened the ears of the world to the wonders of the fuzz guitar.

The first time I heard the full length version of Rolling Stone by The Temptations I wept. It was the majestic sweep and the sheer beauty of the music, the cascading strings and the sublime vocal arrangements that tore a hole in my heart and opened my mind to music far beyond the confines of my teenage years. Though I already knew Motown's catalogue of glorious singles it had never occurred to me that these acts were "album" artists. I still have my original vinyl version of All Directions, and I still play it to this day.

And to think some penny pinching no mark treasury scum were pursuing him to the ends of his days.

Have a drink to him. Here's why he was the Mozart of Soul.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kano! Back To The Future.

So a big envelope from the wonderful Toast PR falls onto my doormat. Ooooo, I think, this looks fat (or should I say phatt); I wonder if it's a wad of notes or a big bag of payola. But no! It's even better than that. It's a cassette. A fucking cassette. At first I thought I'd disappeared up a wormhole and come out into a parallel universe where the Walkman is still king. Until I checked it. Kano, 140 Grime Street. Thank you very many you lovely Toasties.

Now for too many of us middle class liberally types who are OK with US rap, because it's over there, but draw the line at grime, because it's over here and our tabloids say it's all about the crime, miss out on what is the definitive sound of the UK urban scene. It's not just black kids either. There is a whole scene of young folk looking for a definitive way to express whatever frustrations and anger they have with the way their world, both immediate and wider, is being run for them. For me it was punk, for my nephew it's grime. At the top of this scene, musical movement, whatever you want to call it is Kano, Wiley and Dizzee.

Now the UK music industry is notoriously racist, almost institutionally so. I'm sure that some over-fed label MD will splutter their disagreement, pointing out that Leona Lewis and Lemarr are both black. Yeah, they are; but their careers are controlled by stupid white men who's only connection to the street is through the rubber of the tyres of their BMWs. The music they make says nothing to me about our world or the times in which we live. They sound and act like the stage school stooges they are, and like Gareth Gates before them, they will be used up, wrung out and flushed away once the public moves on. Kano, Wiley and Dizzee will still be here.


Because they live in the moment, they control their destinies, they write music that says something to all of us, particularly to the unemployed, angry and exploited youth, the ranks of which will soon be expanding as once again the politicians let the moneymen fuck up our society without ever holding them to account. Now back to Kano's new tape.

Now I'm sure this will be coming out in CD form but whoever thought of sending it out as a mixtape should get a medal. Talk about old skool.

Kicking off with the title track you're straight into the first single, Hustler. Here's the excellent video.

I'm not sure whether the topless girls will be too much for the morality brigade but the point of the song is that music represents an outlet for people deprived of most standard forms of employment and enrichment, aside of drugs and prostitution. Following on from Hustler there's a roll call of blinding tunes - Hunting We Will Go, These MCs and Gangsta - the flow keeps going. Kano lays himself out there and the results are stunning.

Considering that his last album, London Town, was a genre defining moment it is both surprising and invigorating that he tops that with 140 Grime Street. It's time that the majority of our music journalists stopped referring to the US and their assorted X factorappers as somehow the start and end of urban music. Finally the UK can point to our home-grown talent as being far more relevant to our experience and society. On top of that Kano is releasing his new album through his own label, BPM Recordings, a move that should be applauded as so much of the UK music industry has no idea how to market a music that is recognised around the world as being a vibrant expression of the UK in 2008. If you want to know what's happening up East don't ask a major label exec based in London, ask a kid living in Buenos Aires or Toronto.

Now go out and buy the record.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Just got sent a link for this from the wunnerfull people at Outpost media. Death of the Neighbourhood have big pop brains behind them, in the shape of Stephen Jones. No, not the Stephen Jones who's the Harry Potter fan but Stephen Jones who was Babybird back in the mists of time. I haven't heard anything he's been up to for long time, I guess he'd tell me that he's been nuts deep in several "projects" but I like to think he has been spending all the cush he'd made selling two million albums.

Anyway this track is excellent. Hopefully Radio One DJs will play it to death with a knowing wink, with memories of their behaviour the previous night, as the lyric lays bare all the gnarly blaggy world of the professional party coke whore gimme a line please type person. The video isn't up to much but the song is ace.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Finally after all this time.

Summer, it has to be said, was a bitch. This observation is made not as a statement about the weather, though that has added to the eternal sense of gloom and subdued emotions, but as a reflection on the intense emotional roller coaster it became. My wife's dad died and, as is always the case in moments like this, whole new elements of past turmoil were thrown to the surface as she and her brothers wrestled with conflicted feelings. That said he was a good man, though not in the classical sense of that phrase, but he sure as hell left a big mess behind to tidy up.

Music played as big a part as you could hope for, given the, what seemed like, endless drives up and down France with the ipod blaring reminding me of all the good stuff I'd forgotten about and all the new stuff I hadn't written about. As well as hearing old stuff again I got to know such great new stuff (well new to me anyway) like Sir Victor Uwaifo's Guitar-Boy Superstar 1970-76.

Now given the modest nature of the title I didn't know what to expect but if you're going to buy one record, or CD this week make it this one. Admittedly people may get a little tired after track 14 or so, but hey, don't turn your nose up at great value. However this music glides, swoops and lifts the spirits so it was ideal for me. Having been around the Island offices back in the day, when they were releasing King Sunny Ade and hanging out with Jumbo from Mango I can't understand how I never came across Sir Victor before. In the early 80s I co-hosted a club where we featured African acts, like Prince Nico Mbarga, who were passing through London. On top of the live bands we were the first to heavily feature all this brilliant music on the decks, and I still hadn't heard from Vic.

There are plenty of other writers out there who could give you chapter and verse on Victor's astonishing life, the fine essence of his music and what corner of the field his roots came from but as far as I'm concerned that just obscures the wonder that runs through this album like the word FUCKING AMAZING through a stick of rock. Tracks like Kirikisi, and Obodo Eyo with it's honey sax, Idogo or Iye Iye, on and on and on. The locked rhythm section, the sway and swoon of the music, the exquisite guitar work and all this was in the early seventies. Come on.

Hats off then to this Living Legend and Music Superstar, this Sportsman and Philosopher, this Sculptor and Inventor (as he points out on his website). I get so much mocking from friends for championing music from other languages, or other continents; for so many there's some kind of mental block when it comes to lyrics being sung in a foreign language, much the same kind of fear folk have of watching films with subtitles! Heaven forbid! Try to remember what was the last, well made British film and then look across the channel to France, Spain or Germany and marvel at the myriad examples of excellence. Well, y'know, music is the same (not France though.....) so rush out and buy Sir Victor and open up a whole new dimension in your life.

And finally.....

Hurrah Dawn Landes has released her version of Young Folks. Run as fast as you can to your compooooters and download it and make her a big big popstar. Here she is, she is beautiful and wonderful: