122. AR KANE – SIXTY NINE (1988)

No subsequent calendar year has yielded quite the same abundance of brilliant new music as 1988 did. Looking back, I could barely keep pace with it all, and neither could my student grant. It seemed an altogether more adventurous time, more creative. Everywhere bands seemed to be taking risks, determined to outdo one another in their inventiveness – artists who sounded very diverse musically, seemed connected by some invisible thread of inspiration. Daydream Nation, Surfer Rosa, Blue Bell Knoll,16 Lovers Lane, Miss America, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Hairway To Steven, Tender Prey, Bug, The House Of Love, Bummed, House Tornado, California all nuzzled up beside one another on record store racks itchy with expectation.

But even these terrific records sounded little more than the next natural step in the artistic evolution of their creators. Two other albums – by contrast both radical departures – would deliver a more significant sonic leap forward: Isn’t Anything by My Bloody Valentine and Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden. And then there was Sixty Nine, the only debut album of ‘88 whose vision reached as far as, and possibly even beyond that of its contemporaries.

And yet, upon first listen, Sixty Nine was for me a major disappointment. Often the most adventurous albums elicit that initial impression. It certainly did not sound as I had expected it would, but in hindsight that shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

They weren’t wilful obscurantists, but intrinsic to AR Kane’s mission was the desire to break with convention, defy expectations. It is unsurprising, given that Alex Ayuli had been the brains behind successful creative PR campaigns for Saatchi & Saatchi, that he and Rudy Tambala were savvy in their dealings with the music media, presenting as much or as little as they felt expedient, carefully nurturing their own enigma in the process. To begin with they were two black London boys reared on a diet of dub, jazz and dance music, who were making ‘rock’ music seemingly tailored for the indie market. If that sounds like a crass or racist comment, this was most certainly out of the ordinary in 1988. Their name was somewhat obtuse too, even if on closer inspection it could be at least partially decoded; thirdly, rather confusingly, their first three EPs were each on different labels (One Little Indian, 4AD, Rough Trade) – were these guys petulant, demanding, awkward to deal with?; then there was the collaboration with Colourbox on the MARRS single ‘Pump Up The Volume’, which seemed a bizarre move (it wasn’t really – AR Kane were responsible for the flip side – a very different proposition from the runaway chart-topper); finally the music itself – hazy, nebulous, fluorescent, ecstatic, whether drowned in feedback or shrouded in dubby experimentation – was almost impossible to categorise. So Alex and Rudy were left to do that themselves, coining the term ‘dreampop’, and inventing a new genre into the bargain. It was an apt definition in the sense that their career followed the logic of a dream, each move they made unprecedented, sometimes downright confusing to the point of being frustrating, but never what one had the right to expect from them.

If there was sufficient thematic unity in those early EPs, with a few instantly recognisable touchstones (The Cocteau Twins, The Jesus & Mary Chain), yet there was always another dimension to their sound, as if they were reaching beyond the infinite. The Up! Home EP was a case in point, and had critics near tongue tied in their loquacious commendation. Still, no one could have anticipated what was to come next, possibly even Alex and Rudy themselves. And that is the point. The pair’s “fragile but telepathic” sixth sense ensured the process of composing and recording the album would be an organic one, spontaneous, unpredictable, as they indulged their love of jazz, dub, world musics and the avant garde. With the resources at their disposal from their recently acquired 16-track studio (for AR Kane always a crucial instrument in itself), which they embedded in the basement of Alex’s mum’s house, they sought to capture on tape the pearls of inspiration issuing freely from their collective imaginations.

The opening track provided scant indication of the almost polymorphic iridescence which would follow. That’s not to suggest ‘Crazy Blue’ is a conventional rock track. It was anything but, the bass (courtesy Ray Shulman, ex of prog band, Gentle Giant) providing almost all of the melodic content, the main guitar line gently metronomic, with the second pealing like a hundred broken bells clanging inside an aluminium cage. The elasticism of the bass becomes more taut on ‘Suicide Kiss’, sucking into its vacuum washes of feedback as guitars seeking an escape route eventually burst the walls of the dam and suddenly we’re left with Hendrix submerged beneath the waves bashing out an orgiastic version of ‘If Six Was Nine’! It was this kind of noise which gave rise to the description ‘oceanic rock’.

‘Baby Milk Snatcher’ (read Thatcher – in ‘88 edging towards her last moments as PM) successfully harnesses together the archetypal (Wobble-y) bottom end (this time by regular bassist Russel Smith) and the band’s flight towards the stars. There are little sonic shoots sprouting all over the place, and here, the feedback which drowned the version on the Up! Home EP is absent allowing the band’s masterful use of space and dynamics to take centre stage. Lyrically, like in much of their work, there was no overtly political sentiment, in its place vaguely erotic inferences (“Baby suck seed slow slow slow”), which often seemed a by-product of the prevailing atmosphere of playful experimention.

If those two tracks are definitively left field, the brief acoustic wriggle of ‘Scab’ threatens to rein the weirdness back in again, but we are soon reassured by arguably the least reassuring piece on the album, ‘Sulliday’, which closes the first side. One imagines the preliminaries to have included a discussion around how many different sounds guitars can make. It captures what sounds like a lengthy experimental (de)tuning of their instruments, sewing sounds on top of this static industrial heartbeat, while a madman sings gentle lullabies to himself. It’s, shall we say, ‘out there’.

If ‘Sulliday’ takes us close to the abyss, then ‘Dizzy’ drags us kicking and screaming inside the corridors of the asylum itself, the solitary cello solemnly soundtracking Alex’s deranged call and response. It’s a disturbing noise, recalling Beefheart’s hysterical wails over Jeff Cotton’s lead vocal on ‘Pena’. In complete contrast, ‘Spermwhale Trip Over’ is surely the prettiest thing here. If the template is undoubtedly Robin Guthrie, yet the waltzing rhythm and wiry fluorescent guitar shapes take us into even more blissful territory. It may be wise for novices to begin here.

Until now the album has had something of a schizophrenic feel: blissed out but chaotic, unsettling but narcoleptic. But now it’s time to throw caution to the wind, and with painstaking concentration enter once and for all into the void. From this point forward Rudy and Alex elevate Sixty Nine onto a higher plane altogether. This is not some embracing of art for arts sake, but a total surrender to the moment. In truth, I’ve no idea how they created the astonishing sounds on ‘The Sun Falls Into The Sea’ and I wish I’d asked Rudy when I had the chance, but those shimmering uncoiling filigrees of guitar are like the ultimate aural benediction. “Cast your shadows like dreams and whispers/And I can see your breath/The sun is on the sea” sings Alex, enraptured, possessed, but what are words anyhow? For now they are meaningless.

The penultimate track, ‘The Madonna Is With Child’ is just as gorgeous – a patient spiral of piano, injections of shrieking feedback and Alex, lost to the muse. Then, finally, a doff of the cap to Miles Davis with the aquatic abstraction of ‘Spanish Quay’, its eddying guitar pattern returning us safely to the harbour,

AR Kane’s very next move was the Listen Up 12-inch, which saw them more openly incorporate their dance roots. A flawed but ambitious double album (‘i’) would follow in ‘89. It was poppier if less intense but showcased an even broader range of influences. Their profile then dipped significantly – with sporadic recordings until the mid-‘90s – although many bands have cited them as a formative influence, including Bark Psychosis, Seefeel and Slowdive. Over the past few years, Rudy has been working once again under the name AR Kane. I spoke with him about the early days and in particular his recollections about the making of Sixty Nine. (JJ)

Interview with Rudy Tambala (January 2018)

Your early EPs invited comparisons with The Cocteaus and The Jesus & Mary Chain, yet you claimed at the time all you were listening to was Miles Davis! Were you just playing with the press? 

“Not sure we said that. From the start, we cited CTs as a big influence; they made us want to start a band. But it was as much their spirit of newness, experimentation, as it was their actual sound. We were not indie fans, didn’t even know what indie was. We were very much into Miles and Coltrane and Sun Ra, and similarly, more for the spirit than the actual sound. Although we loved the sound too. As for JAMC, I remember Alex getting the album because someone that’d seen us live said we sounded like them, so we played it one evening when we were song writing and decided to approach one song with some of the elements, specifically the feedback layers of noise and the big reverbed drums. That was our first single, but not really anything after that. Oh, and the attitude. I would say that Cindytalk and Joy Division and Bowie were just as much an influence at that time. I had been to university and been exposed to so many different musical styles from people I met. Likewise, Alex was out in the big bad world, getting influenced by stuff. So yeah, maybe playing with them a bit, the writers, but there was a core of truth; our main musical influence was a free kind of jazz, and experimental music, like the dreamscapes you hear on the 80’s ECM label, that Manfred Eicher sound, a kind of jazz rooted in a European tradition, as opposed to, or maybe complementary to, the African blues root.”

The Up Home! EP was in many ways a blueprint for the Shoegaze Scene, albeit much more than that. Simon Reynolds hailed it as rock’s “Antarctica – its final petrifying spell”. When you read reviews like that, how did you respond at the time? 

“We laughed. Sometimes we rolled on the floor crying with laughter, reading bits to each other aloud between hysterical fits. It was a way of coping I guess. It was so over the top, like these writers were competing with each other to compose the most pretentious and absurd prose, but absurdity as art. We knew what was happening; a symbiotic relationship with Simon and a few other intellectuals. We, as people on ‘the scene’, and our sound, for a while, defied categorisation, and so this gave them a big space to play in. At the same time it was amazing, to be found interesting, at that level; these were not blogs, they were music fans’ weekly bibles. People we knew, so-called friends, were freaked. Envious. They didn’t see the humour in it all, and they didn’t get why the press loved our sound so much. We made it look easy, to get in the press every week, but we were not actually doing it. We knew we were not in control of it, so we decided to just enjoy the trip. It encouraged us to go even further out there. That was the best effect.”

Hearing Sixty Nine was a real shock at the time. It wasn’t like anything else you’d done. Had that always been the plan – to create something quite different from the EPs, or did the sound and direction develop organically in the studio? On first listen, it sounded quite formless? 

There were some things that we figured out early, one being that the studio is itself an instrument. Growing up with dub music this was natural. We recognised that in the pro recording studios we were limited in the level of experimentation we could achieve. We were treated like proper musicians. We never thought of ourselves in that way, it was quite limiting, and always a struggle “no, you can’t do it like that, it won’t work, this is the way it’s done…” and that kind of crap. Kill the idea before it wreaks havoc. Don’t get me wrong, working with Ray Shulman, Robin Guthrie, John Fryer; these guys were gods to us and the EPs we did with them were sublime, but we could not have done 69 with them, in the that familiar studio setup. We didn’t want to fight for our ideas, and we didn’t want to seek approval or ask permission. Even the subtlest of implied resistance would have killed the vibe we needed, the playful experimentation. We needed to understand how it all plugged together, how and why things were used. Then we needed to fuck it all up. We needed our own studio.  

So we took a small advance from Rough Trade and bought all the gear necessary for a 16 track studio, with a sequencer and a sampler and a drum machine, reverbs and fx boxes, a quirky ½” tape machine that gave the mixes a fat, warm and bright sound. Set it all up in Alex’s mums cellar underneath 53A Romford Road, Stratford, E.15. We hung old carpets over a couple doors to make a vocal booth. It was cramped and damp and smelly, but when we shut the door, it was like a starship to us. Lift off! We recorded and learned at the same time. Only way to do it. Without pro engineers, producers and pro attitudes, we were set free. We were in a state of extreme excitement the whole time. We were able to freely experiment and play. Yeah, playful freedom. Kids in candy store. We never had a particular structure in mind until it came to mastering the album. We went from one song to the next, without pause. Sometimes we brought in an idea, a guitar part, some words, whatever. Other times we just hit record and did stuff. Compiling the songs for the master is where the final structure started to crystallise, and we took the tapes to Abbey Road to do this. We expected the engineer to say it sounded shit, technically I mean, but he was really cool and said it sounded fine and didn’t really need much tweaking. I think we were influenced by records like Pink Floyd’s DSOTM, the idea of three-machine cross fades, to blend tracks, one into the next. To create something seamless, and let the narrative emerge. And welcome happy coincidences. Songs take on a different meaning, and the listener experiences things in a more holistic way. Great for tripping to, or so I am told. Might try that before I die. Just before.”

I always detected in there elements of PiL, Basement 5 etc. Were those influences conscious, subconscious or would you not acknowledge them at all? 

“PiL for sure. Alex owned everything they created, I had a couple LPs. The Jah Wobble bass, Levine’s Guitars, Lydon’s weird charismatic genius – this was to us a high standard. A very high standard. Basement 5 less so, although we knew some of their stuff, I think it was too obvious in a way, not the same spirit. I wonder if you pick them because they’re black and punky? Anyway, The On-U sound was a big influence too – Playgroup, New Age Steppers, etc. A Certain Ratio Sextet LP – still play that. The punky reggae vibe but very much out-there kinda thing I guess. 

Can you describe what the atmosphere was like in the studio during the recording? How long did it take to complete and who made key contributions apart from yourselves? 

Kinda already touched on that. Experimentation. The willingness to try an idea, go with it or kill it, quickly. The willingness to be surprised. A degree of discipline – we both had a strong work ethic – would start in eve’s after dinner and work thru till sunrise. Weekends we were like monks; locked away. H.Ark! Studio was out of bounds to girlfriends and old friends. We never recorded on drugs, but when we felt we had a mix we’d spliff up, sit back, hit the lights and have a proper mashup listen. We probably took a month to get all tracks down, but I’d need to check the masters for all the dates. We had several contributors. Russel Smith played bass on number of tracks. As did Ray Shulman, who doubled as mentor and technical guru. Billy McGee played cello. Maggie Tambala sang backing vocals. Stephen ‘Budgie’ Benjamin, clarinet. We’d just ring people and say, hey wanna come and play some shit on this, or what? Sometimes they gave us the ‘or what’. We were a bit stroppy. We upset a few folk. This was because we put the music above people’s feelings. If they weren’t cutting it, we said so. Without the least bit of tact. Listening to ‘Crazy Blue’ over Christmas, I remembered singing the bass line to Ray and saying, I want it to sound like that Weather Report sound. He played it in one take, with improvisations. Fucking amazing. Russel, our bassist and third member at the time arrived while Ray was laying. He was really pissed off. I think he may have left the band that day, but it’s al a bit of a blur. I must ask him. Russel was, in person, quite edgy. Nervous. Unconfident – is that a word? – in many ways. Hilariously funny, in a dark way. But when he picked up the bass he was a rock. Solid, calm, perfect feeling, tone and timing. I badgered Russel to bring in songs of his own for 69, but he never did. I remember he had a 4-track set up in his living room, with guitars and effects, and he was working on a version of ‘Golden Hair’, it was extremely far out. Would have been interesting if that had been on 69. He completely got us, and mentored me with hot knives and Sonic Youth, Syd Barrett, Butthole Surfers, Swans, and such things. He brought some real avant-rock knowledge into the band, without which I think we would have been less out there. Maggie would drift in, do her part, float out again. Spacy chick.  

Alex and I argued all the time, on every subject. We had been friends since we first met at primary school, aged 8. Our arguments were silly, like “Genesis are better than the Sex Pistols because …’, anything really. We enjoyed this exchange, and in retrospect I see we were just exploring and challenging each other, sharpening our wits. From this we developed our own language and a point of view. It was a clique of two. Sometimes, in a very cruel way, we would turn our wit onto others, and pick them apart, like pulling the wings off a fly.  We could be horrible. But anyway, I digress. The point I’m getting too, the relevant bit, is that over two decades we became very close, connected, to the point that when we discovered music, we no longer argued. We poured all that energy into discovering sounds, pushing each other further, supporting each other’s efforts. We hardly ever spoke when we were in the basement. It became a kind of telepathy. A trust. Very intense, but in that focused way you see when children are building something or drawing. As soon as it was right, good enough, we moved on. We instinctively avoided over doing it. We knew that we needed to leave imperfections.”

With something like ‘The Madonna Is With Child’, did it only last 4 minutes or was it culled from a longer improvisational piece? 

“That was pretty much it; a fade at the end but not much edited out. Interestingly, a cool US producer and fan offered to remix the entire album for the 30th anniversary, and I was wondering if it could be longer or different. Recording this weekend, a new song, and remembering how the experimentation works, I kind of felt it would be pointless to try and remix it. It is what it is. Was what it was. Of its time. It could be fun though.”

The album got a lot of good press – how did it do commercially? 

“It did pretty good. Number 1 in the indie charts. Can’t remember where it was on the pop charts. I remember around 60,000 units moving in the first year, across all formats and territories. I guess that’s OK for something so uncommercial sounding. If everyone that bought it played it right now, at full volume, it would make a right bloody racket. I don’t think we even thought about how ‘well’ it would do while we were making it. I listen to the radio from time to time, or hear music in shops and eateries, and always feel sad that once great pop songs that sold millions, for example from Motown, sound so worn out now, flat, like when you’re waiting for someone and can’t see the world around you. Guess I’m glad we made ours sound fucked up. Still sounds fresh. So yeah, commercially, did ok. When Rough Trade went down the pan in the 90’s, Brian Bonner from the pressing plant, and One Little Indian, swooped in like carrion crow and picked up our entire catalogue for pennies. They have sat on ‘69’ for 20 years and done nothing with it. I tried to get them to release the rights back to the band but they refused, they are a nasty bunch of artistic slavers. The contracts bands signed in the 80’s were a complete sham; so-called right on indie labels were worse than the majors, where at least they were upfront about raping you. These indie labels that coerce young talent into these deals are con men, dressed up as ‘the alternative’. They have no scruples, and little business talent, so they can only cut it by ripping off the artists. So, 69 and the rest of ‘our’ catalogue has been pretty much shelved, except an awful digital copy on iTunes that has completely lost the dynamics of the analogue master. OLI are threatening to re-release it this year on vinyl – they do not have the masters so it will probably be CD to vinyl. For Fucks Sake! This might be the saddest end to our story I can imagine. I personally will not endorse this. Our plans to play 30th anniversary shows this summer and re-release 69 ourselves from the original tape masters, are dead in the water. Rough Trade and OLI sold us down the river, to quote the prescient lyric of ‘WOGS’.

You always had one foot on the dance floor, with the MARRS project and it was no surprise to hear more of a rhythmic dimension to the sound on ‘I’. Did you and Alex see eye to eye on this? Was it your very eclecticism which caused things to unravel in the end or were there other factors? 

“We both grew up on dance music and clubbing, not indie rock, which is the whole fucking point, n’est-ce pas?. By age fourteen we were clubbing in the West End, doing bank holiday soul weekenders, vibing to jazz funk, funk, soul, ska and reggae, and the emergent electronic sounds from UK and Europe, Chicago and Detroit. Both feet solidly in the fucking dance floor. Alex and I were completely in sync about this, he would sing a melody to me, and I’d say wow, that’s like MFSB, we need strings, or I’d play a guitar chord and he’d send it to the Copycat tape echo to get that rythmic dub effect. Even in the more rocky songs, we tried to add a groove element, with beats or a deep bass. Sometimes it might just be implied, like on ‘Scab’. This is essentially what separated us from the indie bands, alienated much of the white indie crowd, and endeared us to other musicians, DJs and producers, like Andy Weatherall, David Byrne, Saint Etienne etc. I’ve said this before, about the ‘unravelling’ as you put it, that A.R. Kane was two people acting as one. Like when you are deeply in love. The telepathy, the connection, the intensity, all were necessary, and all were fragile. These essential ingredients did not survive physical separation, and so when Alex moved to California, A.R. Kane became A & R Kane. The connection was lost. We began to argue in the studio about the music we were supposed to be creating together. This was exactly like those moments of insanity in a relationship, when instead of fucking, you fight. You watch it happening, it’s unreal, like watching a bad moving with awful actors. The music suffered, it was less spontaneous, less honest. We didn’t so much forget how to do it, we could no longer, ‘sense’ how to do it. A shared sixth sense was lost. We used to call the actions derived from that sixth sense, ‘Kaning it’. If a track was slightly off, we’d say ‘let’s Kane it’, and it shifted us into a different way of working. Like a magic spell. Alex might turn his amp to 10, and chuck his guitar on the floor and attack it with a screw driver, or I might sample a door slamming and use it as the kick drum, or we might cut up the lyric and randomly rearrange the words, then start screaming them through a massive reverb, while I did a poor imitation of Theolonius Monk on the piano. There would be no discussion, just set it up quick, hit record, see what happens.” 

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97. FAUST – THE FAUST TAPES (1973) (Guest Contributor: Rolo McGinty)

Rolo McGinty is frontman with the wonderful Woodentops and has making brilliant music since the early 1980s. We invited him along one more time to write about one of his favourite albums.

There were a few low price records out there when I was just getting beyond T.Rex, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Roxy Music’s ‘Virginia Plain’ was a marvel. I was stuck between my fathers jazz and crooner stock and my own taste which was growing fast. Pocket money was for LPs, 45s. Therefore, any interesting looking record that didn’t use up the meagre budget was going to make it home. Relics by Pink Floyd was one of those – still an amazing collection and way into UK jamming. Camembert Electrique another full of ideas Virgin cheapy, the Virgin Sampler a double LP with White Noise and Captain Beefheart, again one pound for two LPs. The Faust Tapes was just under 50p, had a dazzling modern art cover by Bridgit Riley – I had no idea who she was – and hours worth of reading on the back, possibly with a magnifying glass. I know now that the collection was off cuts, bits and bobs left over from other projects and small experimental segments, which is exactly what I loved about it instantly. It is packed with extremes. Circular saws, bizarre voices, different languages, irresponsibility in music, then again some beautiful musical moments, lots of tape slowing , stereo malarky , echo, pianos and sax, in and out of time drums and effects that fall into beat, just because they are there. Pioneering production for the time, integrating some of the naive and memorable songs with the atmospheric, all brutally edited into one another. Put it on and leave it on! 

Track One is a good pointer to the journey ahead, piano slowed right down, chopping into a mad loop of voice drums and effects that is only there for a short time before you get the first ‘song’. This opens out into a haunting piano and primitive synth sound which almost sounds like a Pink Floyd Rick Wright composition with an almost Isley Brothers’ lead guitar sitting back in the mix, Swiftly you are into the mad. What is apparently a vocal exercise takes you to some kind of Sadhu mayhem, bang from there to proto-punk, almost Pere Ubu sounding, vocals distorted and repeating with a monologue over the top, disconnected aggressive sounds blended in. Then a brace of fake endings! Back into the song it goes. More sax, this time X-Ray Spex comes to mind. Its over and you find yourself in what it sounds like when somebody’s mobile goes off in their pocket and you can hear them going upstairs. Soon we are into the funky which sounds quite Pop Group 78-79, Bristol sound. With the chainsaw super loud in the mix. It doesn’t last long before we are back into the strange. Reversed slowed tapes almost Bela Bartok, vocals through the echo annoying and funny and speed altered like a nightmare in a monastery. The machines come back, drums ominously rolling away and it doesn’t sound a million miles away from the kind of thing you might hear in Cafe Otto nowadays. The Squeaky Bonk army. Thing is if you were brought up on this album, much experimental electronic music is not as impressive as the grinning nodding artists think it is. You heard it here first. Like now we are in a disconnected singular handclap to the left of fragile silence. Not for long. The saxophones are now sounding like a wolf pack calling across the ravine under the moon. With a deep double bass giving the piece a large dimension, sub bass!
Let’s take a break; two funnies. Two really untalented clueless people who I have met and been friendly with, have something in common. They are quite wealthy, one very much so. Super wealthy. Went and bought himself an amp and a Fender Strat. He had never played before. He asked if I could record him. Not knowing this was all rather new for him I agreed. I ran the tape and he just stroked the strings with no chord shape and neither was it tuned up. A bit like someone wondering if its in tune before, tuning it up. I asked him if he wanted to borrow my tuner but no, he was happy. So I recorded twenty minutes of what must be the most incoherent and lacking in anything guitar I’ve ever heard. Obviously as a musician I thought that was cool. Everybody tries so hard in my world. This had no concept of ‘try’. Later, years later, I was looking for something odd for a track and I used a small amount of that guitar the clown prince had played. It took a while to pinpoint what I was hearing. UH? The snip I used added a Faust Tape element to the piece, ‘Singularity’. I thought “Oh! that really reminds me of Faust I’ll leave it in then!”
Again a good friend with no musical talent and a few beans bought herself a Selmer 6 gorgeous sax, to learn on!! The man in the shop didn’t want to sell it to her. He knew it would be returning soon. It did too. For a few months though the owner wore it most of the day, repeatedly playing the only two notes (plus accidental harmonics) she ever got out of it. A very classy Dexys Midnight Runners sax player and mutual friend tried to teach her a bit, but most of the time would be giving me that ‘ no hope!’ look that is to be inner giggle only. The request came, “could you record me?” I was waiting for it ha ha! So I got my 8 track ready. Yep. the same two mournful notes went onto tape. I had a brainwave. I asked her to just keep going to overdub and overdub and overdub and track and track till we had something, a wall of sax. I had changed tape speeds, all of that, reversed the tape, all of it. Again I had forgotten about Faust but I was thinking, something about this reminds me of…. couldn’t think. The sax went back to the shop. Years after I was looking for ideas for something, I found this cacophony of saxes. This time though, i didn’t think oh i know what that is, I thought it sounded like traffic congestion in New York. Slammed some actual car and lorry horns in and there it was. I also thought “ah! sounds like Faust.” This must have been how they did some of that. Probably on 4 track too. I love those two pieces now. That they are up there with Faust for avant garde, makes me pleased. Plus I know people have used them in their productions.

Ok back to the treasure trove. More ‘untitled’ pieces that have you wondering what did that? I’m listening to something that is not far from the modern, electro-acoustic people. They have college courses to learn how to do stuff like this noise now. Birmingham University, Beast sound system all of that. We are on the deep drone voice that sounds like Heinkels overhead. See how quickly this is moving? That was about 25 seconds before more old school piano, acoustic and well recorded, yet sounding like you and your friend sitting beside each other having a jam. The piece that’s on right after that is awesome. It could almost be Cabaret Voltaire or Einsturzende Neubaten. A flanging electronic loop going round with what sounds like cars going by. It doubles, collapses and fades and a really strong jazz flugelhorn plays over pure chill out. It’s gorgeous. Distorting and clean at the same time, the drums minimal and it used to sound so great at night. Sounds good now. Then comes another of those riffs that fit because they are there. Plop! back into all the saucepans in the kitchen and echo.Tape is being hand manipulated into the echo. So lots of dubby rewinds and reverb shots. Scratchy guitar leads into another of their simplistic almost pop hit numbers. The lyrics are odd and the voices earnest singing them. Its inviting and nothing goes on too long. We get Der Baum next. I have never forgotten this one. Sounds like everybody is singing a different song at once. It’s pure Pere Ubu. It begins to build and some of the German voices begin to get uppity. Just one riff going round. Who needs verse chorus right? All the voices sound cool and German. The effects are Dr Who proper. Which leaves us with one last work of art. Track 26! 50p!! A perfect fall asleep last track. I say that because in the late night I could listen without parental disturbance. I would drop off. A voice would come in loud wake me slightly but I know the arm will rest I have no need to move. Drift..into pretty acoustic guitar and French conversation.

So, The Faust Tapes, an introduction to the European alternative and the German experimental scene that had so much to offer. As a Dr. Who kid it had a direct connection to the techniques of reversing and science fiction echo. it also had rock and roll, electronic sound and an atmosphere so strong you would only listen when the time was right. Listening through to write, even though I’ve not got the vinyl out its on youtube, it sounds fresh and unscratched. Ok, mp3 I know, but I used to listen to this on a dusty needle on a mono Fergusson player as a kid so it sounds pretty new! Mind you music sounded great on that box. There was plenty of bass with the lid down. I didn’t see it as hippy either. I had no idea what they looked like. Kraftwerk perhaps?
I admit I’ve always wanted to do a kind of cut up like The Faust Tapes myself. However, believe it or not, I had a job for a few years as a ‘think tank’ for a music company Boosey and Hawkes, I had to come up with the odd. Sadly a new manager came in who didn’t get odd at all. So after about 5 years of releases it ended. In a way though the job was my chance to avant grade and i definitely leapt into the pool. I made tracks of all descriptions. Dripping water in a drain I found in a wood, that when finished sounded like polar ice cracking, I used environmental sounds and made them unrecognisable and worked to give a distinct visual image, or unplayed playable instruments. I can safely say Faust opened the door for me, made it possible for me to think the unthinkable and steer creativity into the dark and find shape. Search for the timeless.
I went to see Faust not that long ago. 3 or 4 years ago. It was really good, they did play a song from the Faust tapes.

So there you go, 49p of brilliance that sounds more experimental and rough than most of what you get today. One man’s psychedelia is another mans poison right? The Faust (party) Tapes gets away with it. Some moments you will go ‘oh bloody hell’ then something really captivating will happen just as you reach for the door handle.This album has no constraints, having to be radio worthy or commercial. Virgin probably paid little to put it out. The recording was already done. They must of made their money back tenfold. I have two copies as I say. Just in case! (Rolo McGinty)

89. SIMPLY SAUCER – CYBORGS REVISITED (1989*)

   
 I’m due to hear from frontman Edgar Breau next week, so you might think it unusual not to delay TNPCs inclusion of Simply Saucer’s Cyborgs Revisited until after we speak. The thing is, I’ve constructed my own myth around this album, I’ve rewritten rock history in my head, and I’m reluctant to let it go, for surely if rock’n’roll is about anything, it’s about gratuitous escapism – so I’m going to hang on to this movie script for a little while longer…

“What a fantastic movie I’m in / what a fantastic scene I’m in…”

[Scene: Backstage, Velvet Underground performance, Max’s, August 22nd, 1970]

Any similarity to characters real or fictional is…blah blah blah…

DY: What’s the matter with you Lou – that was some hokey shit tonight?

LR: Cuz the whole thing’s fucked you asshole. Your stupid Cyborg obsession – it’s getting us nowhere. What the fuck is a Cyborg anyhow?

DY: Remember when you used to be rock’n’roll? Long time ago. You’re not even a footnote now. There’s stuff out there which is unbelievable Lou – wash out your ears, how can you not hear it? Look at the Ig guy – he’s insane. It’s just pure rock’n’roll… 

LR: Let him go and do his shit. Who’s gonna remember that? They called it right. Stooges!! Just a noise goin’ fucking nowhere Doug…Forty people out there tonight...Brigid snapping awaywho’s gonna want tapes of us playing this shithole?…

[SM (barely audible):hey…someone tell Jonathan to beat it…Jonathan get outta here man, go home…its late…]

DY: Are you outta your mind? It’s not like we’re reaching out Lou – nobody came then, nobody’s comin’ now, nothin’s changed; let’s face it. But til now, at least we’ve been able to hold our heads up man. You know, I’m beginning to think Cale got it right. He got out cuz he knew this lame loser shit was on the way

LR: Hey, I got rid of that asshole… that’s precisely the kinda bullshit I might expect to hear from him!…I mean…avant garde, avant garde?! – thinks he’s John fucking Cage. One letter outta place in the name he thinks he’s a fucking genius. That one letter makes all the difference! He was never gonna be a star and neither are you Dougie boy. I’m a star, just like Andy says, and not for fifteen minutes either…just try to stop me honey.

DY: I didn’t join the band to become a star Lou. You want your face on a magazine cover, that’s your business – I want more. I want people to talk about my music 50 years from now.

LR: Your music!? What are you, some kinda comedian? What’ve you ever done? You’re just hanging on my coat-tails you asshole – just along for the ride! Playing supper clubs for twenty people ain’t gonna pay the bills. Well, what you gonna do after tomorrow, you’ll be on your own…cos it’s over…? 

DY: Asshole! 

LR: No, you’re the asshole…

Of course, as we all know, Lou walked out the very next evening, before Yule dragged Velvets’ devotee Jonathan Richman with him and they, together with a noisy young Rimbaudesque poet called Richard Meyers, went on to blitzkrieg the vacuous coked up pomposity of early 70s rawk, with all its ludes and bad hair and mind numbingly bland guitar solos, via their paradigm-shifting interstellar punk rock…

Or perhaps not… this is only a movie after all. 

…In actual fact, Yule made Squeeze the ‘fifth’ VU album, which nobody recognises as an authentic release – it wasn’t of course, as it featured none of the original members. By 1974 he had done nothing else but add guitar to Reed’s Sally Can’t Dance. He would resurface again with the feckless country rock of American Flyer just as punk was exploding. It turned out Doug Yule was never going to do anything authentically punk. But it was not outwith the realm of possibility that he could have been the prescient saviour of rock’n’roll. After all, he joined the Velvets right after White Light White Heat. The last ‘song’ they recorded before he walked in the door was ‘Sister Ray’. If that didn’t put him off, then it was still a hell of a long way to slide before he got to writing ‘Dopey Joe’… so my guess is he must have possessed a tiny kernel of the punk gene, but he buried it. Somewhere deep. Unless of course, he was, as Lou says, just along for the ride…

So, instead it was left to some scraggy music & sci-fi obsessed teenagers from Ontario to pick up the mantle…their lives would be saved by rock’n’roll and they aimed to save it from annihilation along the way. 

“I like the way that you treat me like dirt…”

Hamilton lies close to the Canadian/US border. The two US cities in closest proximity are Detroit and Cleveland – and if you’re looking for clues as to the origin of Simply Saucer’s sound, you need look no further. While the primary influence was undoubtedly The Velvets, Simply Saucer’s true kindred spirits were Iggy, MC5, Mirrors, Rocket From The Tombs and The Electric Eels, alongside a hearty dose of Krautrock and a psychedelic spattering of Syd’s Pink Floyd and Hawkwind.

The band – Edgar Breau (guitar, vocals), Kevin Christoff (bass, vocals) John LaPlante – aka Ping Romany (electronics) and Neil De Merchant (drums) would hardly become household names; formed in 1973, they only ever released one single (in 1978) before quietly disbanding. It would take another ten years before an album collection finally emerged. Culled from only two sessions – one recorded in Bob and Daniel Lanois’ mother’s home in 1974, the other recorded live in Hamilton a year later – Cyborgs Revisited was the first full length document of their incredible music, and as such is one of the great lost albums of the 70s.

A virulent distillation of acid-fried space rock and brutal urban punk, it comes over as a deranged masterpiece. ‘Instant Pleasure’ possesses the shambolic jerk of the Neon Boys’ ‘Love Comes In Spurts’ although predates it. As Breau pleads “Let me sleep inside of your cage / I want to feel your sexual rage”, Christoff’s impossibly spasmodic bass convulses around Romany’s anarchic theremin noodlings. ‘Electro Rock’s garage riff could be something off MC5s High Time. Delivered in Breau’s slovenly sneer it is laid to waste by a collision of screeching guitar, pummelling bass and some bizarre electro-magnetic loops. ‘Nazi Apocalypse’ degenerates magnificently into a big Ron Asheton wah-wah scorched earth guitar storm and the instrumental ‘Mole Machine’ is like a psychic summons to outer space by a college of math rock guitar freaks beckoning with all their might (and incomprehensible formulae) the descent of the mothership…it succumbs gladly to their invocation.

On ‘Bullet Proof Nothing’ Breau does indeed does sound like Yule having a crack at ‘Sweet Jane’ with The Modern Lovers providing the back up. (“Treat me like dirt, drive me insane / treat me like dirt now, tear out my brain… I’m just bullet proof nothing to you / Point blank target for your waves of abuse.”) Despite the nihilistic sentiment, it’s the most accessible thing on here, and would have fitted comfortably onto Loaded or even Transformer and even ennobled both of them. At any rate it truly is one of the great lost tracks of the 70s.

But it is no exaggeration to say that the live tracks (which comprise Side Two of the album) – recorded on a roof on Jackson Square on June 28th 1975 are just staggering – a revelation. The live version of ‘Here Come The Cyborgs’ is an astonishing sonic assault with more killer guitar riffs than James Williamson could accumulate on the entire Kill City LP. And that’s saying something. It briefly melts down into a blues jam and then knocks satellites out of the sky before the discordant thrash at the tail – a precursor to The Fall’s ‘Hip Priest’. Meanwhile, ‘Dance The Mutation’ is like a Jumpin’ Jack Flash Jagger cranking it out over an unstoppable tidal wave of nuclear moog radiation from Romany which evidently hungers to swallow up everything in its path. And as for ‘Illegal Bodies’ well, it captures on tape one of the most viscerally exhilarating guitar performances ever recorded. Think for one moment of ‘Run Run Run’ – it’s a smack song right? Well, ‘Illegal Bodies’ has that guitar, but Breau propels the song forward with such amphetamine fuelled momentum that, cut loose from its moorings, it spills its guts out all over the place…a sprawling mess of sheer punk adrenalin.
Now imagine if Breau, Romany and co had been afforded proper exposure at the time. Surely rock history would have been rewritten and perhaps punk would never have happened at all. There would have been no need. Julian Cope wrote a genius review of it on his Head Heritage site around 15 years ago – it’s here (https://www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/albumofthemonth/simply-saucer-cybords-revisited) and no-one has came close to it since, so there may be a chance you’ve tracked it down before now, but if it’s something you haven’t heard yet, then I envy you your first listen. This is the stuff you’ve been looking for. (JJ)

66. ROXY MUSIC- FOR YOUR PLEASURE (1973) Guest Contributor – Paul Haig (Josef K)


I remember seeing a billboard in Edinburgh for something called Roxy Music, it was 1972. The blown up image was a 1950s-style album cover featuring a stunning female model (photographer Karl Stoecker shot the cover with model Kari-Ann Mullerand) and I thought to myself, what is Roxy Music? It didn’t take me long to find out in the music press that it was the debut album by an English art school band who dressed in totally out-there glam gear and got shouted at when they played live for being somewhat effeminate looking. The first ‘Roxy’ music I heard was the single ‘Virginia Plain’ then I bought the album which was amazing in every way. Unfortunately, I was a bit too young to be going to rock concerts so the closest I ever got to seeing early Roxy Music was when I was on the top deck of a bus going up Lothian Road and saw them get out of a black limousine to walk into the foyer of the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh’s West End. They were wearing all their glam clothes and looked amazing so it was a real bummer to miss the concert which I think was at the Odeon cinema.
I first saw the sleeve for the second album ‘For Your Pleasure’ at Bruce’s record shop in Rose Street. Due to lack of pocket money funds I was unable to buy it for what seemed like an eternity so I would go in just to ogle it and try to imagine what tracks like ‘The Bogus Man’ would sound like. It looked dark and sinister and featured model Amanda Lear (who also started a career as a disco singer in the mid-seventies) in a contorted pose, wearing a skin tight leather evening dress and tottering awkwardly on high healed stilettos while leading a black jaguar on a thin leash. The background seemed like a futuristic Las Vegas city skyline and if you opened out the gatefold Bryan Ferry was on the left dressed as a chauffeur beside a black stretch limo, grinning ambiguously from ear to ear.
FYP has always been slightly overlooked as the progressive and cutting edge follow up to the eponymous first album that it was. Released only eight months after the slightly more tuneful eponymous debut it takes things even further in terms of sonic experimentation and artiness. Eno was still in the band at this point and his contribution to the overall atmosphere and ambience was crucial to the depth and texture achieved. He left due to tensions in the band after they toured the album in 1973 and things were never quite the same. Amongst the highlights are the sound effects on the title track and his crazed synthesizer solo, which is pure Sci-Fi jumping out of ‘Editions of You’.

You can just imagine his ostrich feathers being ruffled as he was playing it. Like most great records the opening track demands attention, ‘Do the Strand’ is a precise and accurate introduction and a perfect album opener. Stabbing staccato electric piano chords jump straight in along with the lead vocal:
“There´s a new sensation, a fabulous creation, a danceable solution, to teenage revolution”

which is reminiscent of ‘dance craze’ records from the sixties like ‘The Twist’ and ‘The Loco-Motion’ except ‘Strand’ appears more sinister, as if it could be the clinical answer to placate and quell the rise of the troublesome teenager. However, it’s probably nothing to do with a fictional dance craze we never learn the moves to and more likely an overall present moment coolness encompassing music, fashion, lifestyle and image. If you did the Strand, you were ‘in’ the ‘in crowd.’

There are only eight tracks on the album possibly due to side two featuring the nine minute and twenty second progressive, psychedelic tinged uneasy sounding and weirdly wonderful epic ‘The Bogus Man’ which features saxophonist and oboe player Andy Mackay playing incongruous and a-tonal parts which somehow work in the context of the song. It easily could be the soundtrack to a horror b-movie or a cry in the dark at Halloween. Towards the end you get Bryan Ferry’s heavy exhausted breathing with the faint sound of the backing music track bleeding from his headphones.
‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’ was one of the songs we covered in TV Art which was the band before Josef K. I have a vague memory of performing it in a cellar bar in Edinburgh and instead of attempting to emulate the flanged psychedelic finale of the original we stopped it dead after the famous climatic line “But you blew my mind”. Probably a wise move. It’s an amazing lyric for the time, a sinister monologue that portrays the dissatisfaction and ennui of the narrator over his self-indulgent living and vast wealth.
Phil Manzanera is an integral part of the sound on early Roxy albums and shows off the uncanny ability to throw really catchy and commercial guitar riffs into most of the songs, as well as punky rhythms and memorable solos. His rhythm part on ‘Editions of You’ really drives the track. The guest bass guitar player is John Porter who became a successful record producer as well as working at the BBC for a couple of years. I actually ended up working with him when I was doing a session for the BBC in 1983, which he produced. One of the tracks,’ On This Night of Decision’ appeared on the B-side of the ‘Justice’ 12-inch single released on Island records. I wish I’d realised that he’d played on FYP at the time!
Eno is again very present in the title track and final song on the album, it is testament to how his synthesizer doodling and taped echo/delays could weird out and enhance a Roxy track, something that was sorely missing in future productions as the band became more commercially orientated from the third album onwards. It’s a haunting kind of stop/start track with precise tom tom fills throughout, one of drummer Paul Thompson’s best recorded performances with Roxy. A Duane Eddy style guitar part follows the vocal melody and warped taped echo/delay piano/keyboards. Mellotron strings and choir (also used on The Bogus Man) build slowly with distant tortured distorted guitar, endless drum rolls and cymbals tumbling around everywhere. I still like the part around two minutes in just before the long finale where everything is stripped away to leave Ferry’s dry a cappella vocal:
“Old man, through every step a change, you watch me walk away, Ta-ra”.

“Ta Ra” repeats over and over until it slowly fades into a cacophony of dark sound then distant monk like chants, before it closes with the voice of Judie Dench sampled by Eno from a poem quietly saying ” You don’t ask why” in the background. What does it all mean..eh? (Paul Haig)

Click the link below for our review of Josef K’s wonderful ‘Sorry For Laughing’, featured earlier in the series:

https://thenewperfectcollection.com/2015/05/10/josef-k-sorry-for-laughing-1981/

 

7. ROBERT WYATT – ROCK BOTTOM (1974)

ROBERT WYATT – ROCK BOTTOM (1974)

If  Rock Bottom were issued today, it would probably receive the flippant response that it was the only occasion in history when a couple performing their infantile private jokes has elicited anything other that irritated nausea. This would gravely short-change, not to mention insult,  both Robert Wyatt and his wife, Alfreda (Alfie) Benge; firstly because, as is well-documented, she had just supported him through the ordeal of paralysis from the waist down after falling from a window the previous year (with characteristic restraint,  Wyatt has since suggested the accident had a liberating effect on music he’d already largely written) but also because the record is genuinely – to use another debased adjective- awesome. The pet names and in-jokes that permeate the Alifib/Alifie medley are affectionate but also more than slightly unsettling, suggesting almost a regression to a childlike state, particularly as Gary Windo’s tenor sax scurries in like a venomous snake seeking prey. There’s another pair of twins in Little Red Riding/Robin Hood Hit The Road- the former in particular almost defies description, as Wyatt pleads “Oh stop it, stop it” and the whole song begins to run backwards like an engulfing mudslide and the matchless Ivor Cutler peers out of the sludge to taunt with talk of “lunchtea” and joining  a hedgehog in bursting tyres, and it all culminates in an endless fade of what sounds like an entire nation sounding a fanfare. In fact, it’s the trumpets of one man, Mongezi Feza, who would die of pneumonia the following year. Then there’s Sea Song, possibly the most aptly named song ever, its restful drift the sound of moorings slipped and shoreline receding further and further until things get choppy with a piano solo which matches Aladdin Sane for sweet discordance and Wyatt calls out wordlessly, not waving…
If Robert Wyatt is, as he once memorably described himself, a “gawping tourist of jazz”, Rock Bottom takes him- and the listener- to the jazz pyramids, Florence and Niagara Falls. Start packing now. (PG)