Book Review: Adventures In Modern Recording by Trevor Horn

It was surely only a matter of time before arguably the most important producer of the last 50 years put pen to paper, but Trevor Horn’s memoir ‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ was still one of the nicest surprises of 2022.

The opening section outlines his upbringing in the tough, industrial North East of England, and then each chapter is centred around one key track that made his name as a producer, from The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ to Seal’s ‘Crazy’.

We trace Horn’s early days as a Beatles and Dylan fanatic, self-taught guitarist (his musician father buys him a knackered old four-string which gets broken and is never replaced) and upright bass player in the school orchestra.

There’s the constant fear of going down the mines, a fate that had befallen most of his relatives. Young Trevor eventually has to move in with his grandparents (sharing a bed with Uncle John), though they are supportive of his musical talent.

Horn moves to Leicester and starts playing double bass with big bands whose repertoire includes pop covers and light jazz. By this time, he has become an ace sight-reader, something that he values throughout his career.

He relocates to Blackpool to take up a residency with the band, his dad dropping him off with the words: ‘Well, you’re on your own now, son. You just watch it.’ Horn then hits London to play with a band called Canterbury Tales and pick up various function gigs.

As disco takes hold, Horn finds himself on the studio scene, getting a regular gig with Tina Charles and ‘fixing’ a lot of duff songs, including Leicester City’s ‘This Is The Season For Us’. The penny drops – he suddenly realises he’s a record producer.

This becomes his driving force as he moves away from the bass and meets Jill Sinclair, studio manager of SARM West (formerly Island’s Basing Street studio) and soon to be both his manager and wife. We get the fascinating story of Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, Horn literally having to construct a hit out of various disparate elements.

We learn that Horn sacks ABC’s bass player Mark Lickley just before the recording of Lexicon Of Love (Horn reports that U2 later got wind of this and refused to work with him!) – he is fairly ruthless as a young producer, always with Jill in his corner, but is now repentant.

There’s a very funny chapter on working with Malcolm McLaren and The Supreme Team on Duck Rock and a toe-curling account of cooking up Yes’s US #1 single ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’.

We get the inside story on making Frankie’s ‘Relax’ and Holly Johnson’s court case plus Horn’s involvement with the 12” version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. Horn reports that when he first meets Bob Geldof, the Boomtown Rats frontman immediately tells him he preferred Bruce Woolley’s version of ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ to the Buggles’. Horn reacts thus: ‘What a twat. After filing him under “Rude Fucker”, I moved on…’ (They later made up.)

There are tales of painstakingly piecing together ‘Slave To The Rhythm’, Seal turning up for his 2004 Wembley charity gig (see below) at the last minute, and a trained Special Branch dog making an immediate bee-line for his bag in the dressing room. You can read the book for the funny punchline.

‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ is the very definition of the muso page-turner. Full of interesting titbits and amusing gossip, you need it if you have even the slightest interest in 1980s and 1990s pop.

An Interview With Lewis Taylor

Lewis Taylor has never troubled the BRIT, MOBO or Grammy awards and never had a top 40 single or album but may be the most musically talented British solo artist of the last 30 years.

Over six studio albums – including last year’s unexpected NUMB, his first record for 18 years – Taylor’s work has embraced neo-soul, old-school R’n’B, prog, psych and yacht rock, influenced legions of blue-eyed-soul wannabes and been publicly lauded by David Bowie, Aaliyah, Paul Weller, Amy Winehouse, Leon Ware, Elton John, D’Angelo and Daryl Hall.

His classic self-titled debut album dropped on Island Records in 1996 and stunned the musical cognescenti. Who was this guy from Barnet who sung a bit like Marvin, played guitar like Ernie Isley, bass like James Jamerson and keyboards like Billy Preston, and created his extraordinary angst-ridden compositions in a North London flat on two digital reel-to-reel tape machines?

His second album – 2000’s Lewis II – was possibly even better, but sadly there were various reasons for its lack of commercial success. Lewis parted company with Island and recorded two further studio albums in the 2000s, Stoned Parts 1 and Part 2, and also issued The Lost Album and Limited Edition 2004. But what most fans didn’t know was that Lewis had a ‘secret’ 1980s history as purveyor of weird psychedelic pop/rock under the name Sheriff Jack and also as a touring guitarist in The Edgar Broughton Band.

It all adds up to a truly singular career, and Lewis is one of the most gifted artists working in music today. movingtheriver caught up with him as his new album NUMB was being released to rave reviews.

MTR: I gather you grew up in North London and were somewhat of a piano and guitar prodigy – can you tell me about your early experiences of seeing live music in the capital? Who would have been some artists you saw live/listened to?

LT: Ooh no, I wouldn’t say I was anything near a prodigy. My Dad was a wannabe musician who’d played percussion in a couple of jazz bands – Bongo Bernie they used to call him – so the real interest in music sort of came from being around him and I became obsessed with records. As a result live music has never interested me and it still doesn’t really, it’s all about the records. My dad liked a lot of big-band jazz – Stan Kenton was a fave of his, and he liked Latin stuff like Tito Puente. I also remember an album of Maya Angelou songs he liked as well cos it was sort of dark calypso. That was his thing – he liked anything that had that sort of exotic, syncopated rhythmic thing going on, but he liked some pop of the day too. He loved Mungo Jerry’s ‘In The Summertime’, it used to make him laugh, and I can remember him in the car singing along to the end choruses of TRex’s ‘Hot Love’. He was quite a strange man.

On the keyboards side, would you say you were ‘classically’ trained? I only ask because I hear little bits of ‘classical’ harmony on some of your stuff, like ‘Satisfied’ and ‘The Final Hour’.

I would say I had a bit of classical training. But because the guitar had taken over I’d stopped paying attention to my piano lessons, but some of it must have still seeped through so I do have a good grasp of music theory, but I still can’t read music. I used to cheat in my lessons. I would learn whatever piece I was given to learn by ear and pretend I was reading it. Because I had a precocious taste in rock music as a pre-teen, the fact that the lessons were all based around classical piano music only served to distance me from it even more. So it very quickly started to feel like an extension of school. I did eventually manage to splutter out: ‘Mum, I hate this – I’m only doing it cos you told me to’, and that was the end of it.

Which guitarists/bassists/keys players do you/did you idolise? Re. the former, I hear Ernie Isley, Eddie Hazel, maybe Richie Blackmore, and I detect a John McLaughlin influence too?

One of my biggest bass influences is Chris Squire. I first heard Yessongs in 1975 and all I could hear was this clicky-clang of his bass but he would also be going places melodically where someone like James Jamerson went and the combination was so unusual and inspiring. On guitar, Pete Townshend, just for his rhythmic thing he has going on, I definitely got my strong right-hand attack from listening to him. For soloing, yeah a bit of Blackmore, but when I really started trying to play lead Van Halen had just come out so apart from the finger-tapping aspect which I’m not really into, the way he interpreted the blues scale influenced me a hell of a lot. Michael Schenker was another one. And of course Jimi. I do like players like John McLaughlin and John Scofield, Allan Holdsworth as well, but I’m not lofty enough to go there!

Tell me about joining/touring with the Edgar Broughton Band.

It was a weird coincidental thing, one of the albums I’d borrowed from my cousin was an Edgar Broughton Band album so I’d first heard of them when I was 9 or 10. Ten years later my brother had got a job working at Steve Broughton’s studio. When Steve told him they were going to reform and were looking for a guitarist, he said: ‘Get my brother in, he already knows all your stuff’ so it went from there. I loved it. The dysfunctionality of their music and of the band itself sat very well with my own dysfunction! We toured round Germany, Switzerland and particularly Norway a lot, we played a huge stadium in East Berlin three years before the wall came down. Every tour was an experience of some kind, not always good, but even that was good! The one which really shone for me was an outdoor festival on a Norwegian island called Karlsoy. We played at midnight but it was daylight, really strange daylight. I’ll always remember the walk down to the stage and turning round to see this wonderfully eerie vision of Edgar waking behind me, his Lennon shades on, his long white mane of hair and this really odd, cold light from the midnight sun shining behind him. We played a blazing set that night. Love Edgar, love those guys!

Sheriff Jack – what are you memories of that period?

Steve Burgess was a bit of a character who had a shop in Crouch End called ‘English Weather’. He saw himself as a sort of record shop guru and I suppose he was, to me at least, the imploding 19-year-old I was back then. It coincided with the Paisley Underground thing that was starting at the time so his shop specialised in that along with 60’s garage and psychedelia, and so I quickly became a regular customer there and we became friends. He’d also been involved somehow with The Soft Boys and Robyn Hitchcock and I went through a period of listening to them quite a bit. I probably misread a lot of what Hitchcock was doing as just silly nonsense and tried to do the same thing with the Sheriff Jack stuff. The name came from a track on a Red Krayola album called God Bless The Red Krayola And All Who Sail With It. Again, a very bizarre album to some that seemed to make perfect sense to me. On this song I think they’d deliberately recorded the drums without being able to hear the song so they would go out in and out of time with the rest of the music. I used to play that track over and over on so I thought it was fitting to name myself after that song. I wasn’t serious or ambitious about it and I’m still not quite sure why I did it to be honest, but I did.

 

When signing with Island, did you have any direct dealings with Chris Blackwell?

No I never met him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t even know I was signed to his label, let alone who I was!

Is it true that you worked quite a lot on that first Island album at their studios in St Peter’s Square, Hammersmith, with more of a ‘band’ vibe, before recording the album essentially by yourself?

Not really, no. I was still trying to find a direction and hadn’t found it at that point. So there was a lot of early material that was fairly dodgy. I’d gone in there with the multi-tracks to overdub a drummer to get a live feel. But even then everything else had been done at home. I used to have some bad habits – I would sometimes record the effects onto tape as opposed to sending the tracks to effects during the mixing stage, so I would just use a reverb unit, then compress the reverb so it really sort of sucked in, then record it with the dry signal. The album was actually mixed at that studio though, so I’m sure the notorious echo chamber is on there somewhere.

What was it like appearing on ‘The National Lottery’ show? And ‘Later…With Jools’? Did you enjoy that aspect of promotion?

Some of it I did, yeah. I actually was on ‘Later’ three times you know – oh yes. Once as Lewis, once on keys with Finley Quaye, and once as keyboardist with some rappers called Spooks.

Do you ever wonder how different your life would have been if ‘Lucky’ had been a big hit? (and btw, I’m stunned that ‘Whoever’ didn’t even chart – that sounds like a hit to me, even today…).

Oh thanks. I actually have a pretty good idea how I would have turned out had I been more successful – I’ve always had a few loose screws at the best of times but a successful career in music, and particularly the fame aspect of it, would’ve turned me into a complete basket case!

Is it true that it was completely your decision to scrap the second album for Island, before starting over and recording Lewis II? I do recall a comment at the Hanover Grand gig where you alluded to Island being responsible…

Not exactly, I pushed in such an extreme direction the other way with what eventually became The Lost Album, it was a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived ‘trapped in R&B’ feeling I was going through at the time and some people around me were in favour of it and others weren’t. In the end I think I lost confidence in it and did Lewis II instead.

It is mystifying to me why no singles were released from Lewis II. Do you regret that ‘You Make Me Wanna’ wasn’t released as a single? I might have gone for ‘My Aching Heart’ too…

I don’t know. I think things were fairly fragmented by then and really my heart wasn’t in it anymore, but I wasn’t aware of that so I was sort of on autopilot. Also a lot of the people who were at Island when I signed with them had left so a few things definitely sort of contributed to the way things went there.

That Hanover Grand gig around that time felt so positive and it was a thrill seeing an English artist making such patently world-class music, and starting with ‘Track’… Do you feel that that momentum wasn’t maintained? And how much do you lay at Island’s door?

Hmm, not much really, but I did at the time. In hindsight I don’t think I would have been an easy artist to work with, I was a guy who sounded like that but looked like this and I wouldn’t play ‘the game’. I’m surprised that they were as supportive as they were! I do remember it being a pretty good gig though.

Amy Winehouse was quoted as saying she wanted to work with Paul Staveley O’Duffy only because he’d worked with you – did you know Amy? Did she seek you out? She was obviously a big fan. I thought ‘Take The Box’ had more than a bit of your influence.

No, I didn’t know Amy and I wasn’t aware that she was a fan. She was a great singer though. Very sad what happened.

Did you record a whole Trout Mask Replica covers album? I remember hearing ‘Ella Guru’ and being knocked out by it.

Oh cool, I’m glad you liked that! No I didn’t do the whole album, it was a bit of an anal job. You can’t learn those songs that easily cos there isn’t a straight line going through them, well there is but it’s very, very bent. So the only way was to get the instrumental version of each song, record it onto a stereo track cos Beefheart always had two guitars panned hard left and right, then I would just drop in and overdub it phrase by phrase, erase the original then try and sing on it. I gave up after 13 tracks, couldn’t be bothered! LOL…

How do you feel Universal have treated your Island catalogue since you left the company? Do such things bother you?

No, not really. It’s a shame that they didn’t contact me when they did the expanded reissue thing but other than that it’s all cool.

Did you know beforehand that the 2006 Bowery Ballroom gig in NYC was going to be your last for a long while?

No I didn’t as such, but I had started looking at myself from a personal point of view by then and I was trying to figure out where I ended and where the musician began. Unfortunately that process coincided with the involvement of the US guys so I was on a different page to them and it was the wrong page to be doing what I was doing. I didn’t have a clue about that at the time though so my behaviour may have been a bit baffling to them!

Famously you withdrew much of your online presence in 2006 – what has driven you to ‘switch it on’ again? And how do you feel about being a solo artist now with all the social media marketing etc. that goes along with it?

I dunno really, up until about two years ago I still wasn’t bothered, if somebody told me I’d be putting an album out in 2022 I’d have laughed at them. It feels a bit like it came out of nowhere but at the same time it doesn’t feel like one of those ‘I just have to create again and now is the time’ scenarios either. There was always a part of me that was pretty cynical about that way of thinking, and coming back to it now I still think like that, but in less of a cynical way if that makes any sense. The whole social media thing is just another thing – ‘new skin for the old ceremony’ – it has its pros and cons just like everything else that came before it.

You used to make music using a digital reel-to-reel tape machine in your home – is that still the case?

No, it’s all on a Mac now.

What do you think of the streaming revolution and its effect on album listening? Do you miss the physical product (and is NUMB going to appear on vinyl?)

I don’t really miss the physical format, I actually like mp3s, I like the convenience of them. Yes NUMB is definitely getting a vinyl release some time next year. Be With Records are doing it, the guys who did the vinyl of the first album. I’ve heard the test pressing and it sounds great.

B-sides – you created some brilliant music. Personal favourites: ‘Lewis III’, ‘Pie In Electric Sky/If I Lay Down’, ‘Asleep When You Come’. Is there anything more in the vaults? What’s the favourite of your B-sides?

Oh cool, thanks! No I don’t think there is anything left over, each set of B-sides was written and recorded specifically for each ‘single’ release. My favourite has always been’ I Dream The Better Dream’. In my fantasy it’s what early Soft Machine would’ve sounded like if Marvin Gaye was their lead singer.

I enjoyed your collaborations with Deborah Bond and The Vicar’s ‘The Girl With Sunshine’ (please tell me more about that). Did you consider any other duets/collaborations in a similar vein just before your ‘retirement’? Or is there anything in the pipeline for the future?

Both of those things were done at a time when I was starting to back away and shut up shop so it was all done via email. The Deborah Bond thing was a nice little job, cute little song. The Vicar thing was a guy called David Singleton who was somehow attached to Robert Fripp, I’m not sure exactly how. I think he’d heard a tune from The Lost Album which was featured on a compilation that came free with one the mags and so he sent an email asking if I’d like to sing on this funny album he was doing. Why did I do it? Good question. Looking back I think I was probably just flattered that someone was still interested at that stage.

You were involved as a ‘sideman’ capacity with Gnarls Barkley and Finley Quaye – was there ever any possibility of you just becoming an ‘anonymous’ sideman post-2006? Could you have carried on as a session player?

No I don’t think so. I definitely needed a total break from everything. I was approached with a couple more MD jobs after the Gnarls thing but as soon as I started thinking about the possibility of doing them it just felt wrong. I did reconnect with The Edgar Broughton Band though and we did a few more tours over the course of about four years, but that doesn’t count cos they were mates and it was away from Lewis Taylor and the mainstream industry. We toured the same places as they had always done, Norway, Germany and Switzerland. I think a few gigs were recorded but not for a record, although we did do a German Rockpalast show which had a DVD and CD release, and there are a few fan-made clips of some Norway shows on YouTube.

Listening to NUMB, it’s striking how much lower your vocals are in the mix as opposed to say on Lewis II. There’s a ‘horn-like’ feel to your vocals now too. I gather you particularly love Johnny Hodges’ playing?

That’s interesting, it didn’t occur to me that I sounded like that! I do remember saying I liked Johnny Hodges but I love all the classic alto and tenor players. The Hodges reference was probably from when I was listening to a Charlie Parker Jam Session album and Johnny Hodges was one of the many players on it, and compared to everyone else’s blazing solos his playing was so small and sly in a wink-wink kind of way and I remember being very entertained by it at the time. But then I discovered Albert Ayler and everything changed.

Who’s that on backing vocals on ‘Apathy’? And are there are any other guest appearances on the album?

Well that’s Sabina (Smyth) of course! And she is by no means a guest, any female vocals you hear are her! She’s on all the albums. We write, produce and mix all the albums together – it’s all us.

Is that a Syd Barrett interview reference on ‘Feel So Good’? (‘I even think I ought to be’…)

Of course! God bless Syd. I love him.

‘Nearer’ is extremely complex. Any memories of how that tune came about?

It’s strange cos while it does sound complex it was actually one of those tracks the just seemed to write itself.

NUMB is generally downbeat but also uplifting, kind of modern blues. A key theme seems to be having the courage to be yourself, faults and all, and the problems that go along with that. ‘Braveheart’ says it all.

That is a key theme, yes. Self-awareness and trying to be more authentic than you may have been in the past. All that shite. Yeah, I love ‘Braveheart’.

It’s a beautiful mixing and mastering job on NUMB. It’s really easy on the ear. Do you enjoy that aspect of music-making?

Thanks man. I think I enjoy that and the programming more than anything. Using a program like Logic is so much fun. You’re only limited by yourself. Logic will do anything you want it to and having those tools accessible is a great thing.

I think NUMB is really original (and, for what it’s worth, your best album since Lewis II…), but what music do you listen to for enjoyment now?

Thank you so much and I’m so glad you like it. I listen to a lot of opera these days. Totally away from anything I do as a musician.

How do you feel about people covering your stuff? Anything you particularly like? I’ve heard a few – Taylor Dayne, Peter Cox, Beverley Knight. Jarrod Lawson plays a great live version of ‘Right’. And of course Robbie. Presumably the latter has been absolutely vital for your income stream.

I think it’s cool and I think Robbie did a great job on ‘Lovelight’. I was watching some footage of him the other day and he’s such a powerhouse as a performer.

Do you miss playing live at all? Personally I found the last few years of your live stuff in the mid noughties a little ‘perfect’ with great players but maybe a little too slick… Do you agree? And any chance you might play live behind NUMB?

I actually thought that last band, myself, Ash Soan, Lee Pomeroy and Gary Sanctuary was the best band I ever had. I heard some tapes of us when we were over in NYC and we were so fierce.

Finally, how would you sum up your career in music thus far?

Hmm, probably with a small ‘c’…

Thank you, Lewis…

New John McLaughlin book: your feedback

Movingtheriver.com wants YOU!

My new book on master musician John McLaughlin will be published worldwide by Rowman & Littlefield in September. The design department have put together a few draft covers, and I’d like to know which one YOU most like the look of. It would be good to get your feedback, and you’ll get a thanks in the book.

Please have a look at these three images and let me know your favourite by commenting below or dropping me an email. Many thanks in advance.

Cover #1:

Cover #2:

Cover #3:

The CD Cull

New year, new CD collection.

December 2022 saw the Second Annual CD Cull, not quite as drastic as the Great Cull Of 2021 but still pretty ‘brutal’.

In this annual period of ‘reinvention’ and ‘rebirth’, some people throw out clothes, books and furniture – these days I look with fear and pity at my overburdened CD shelves.

CDs have lots of pros: sound quality, liner notes, cover artwork. But they are heavy, take up space, and looking at my stash is also a tacit admission of guilt at not getting to record shops as much as I used to.

But which CDs to keep? Of course there are the untouchables, in my case: Steely, John McLaughlin, Weather Report/Jaco/Wayne, Level 42, Jeff Beck, Syd, Ornette, Monk, Joni, Miles, Prefab, Little Feat, Marvin, Zappa, Scritti, Faith No More/Mr Bungle, It Bites, Danny Wilson et al.

Then there were the CDs I’m not altogether sure about but aren’t available on any other formats. So it’s a stay of execution for:

Lil Louis’ From The Mind Of Lil Louis
Robin Eubanks’ Karma

Then there are ones I haven’t listened to for ages. So I listened to them. Did I still want the below? Yes! They all screamed ‘classic’ pretty much from the first bar:

Human League’s Dare
Morphine’s Like Swimming

Brad Mehldau’s Places
Geri Allen: The Gathering
Brecker Brothers Collection Vols. 1 and 2
Gary Clail’s Dreamstealers

Little Axe’s The Wolf That House Built
Lonnie Liston Smith’s Cosmic Funk
Albert Collins & The Icebreakers’ Live ’92-’93
Blur’s Blur
Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin
D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar

But stuff has to go, so you need a system. There were soundtrack albums with one or two superb vocal tracks but which otherwise flattered to deceive:

Isaac Hayes’ Shaft
Marvin’s Trouble Man

There were compilation albums that were badly put together, inconsistent or lacking decent liner notes/info. So it’s goodbye to:

Roy Ayers’ A Shining Symbol
The Jimi Hendrix Concerts
Living Colour: Pride
On-U Sound’s Pay It All Back Vol.4
Ian Dury & The Blockheads’ Reasons To Be Cheerful
Peaches: The Very Best Of The Stranglers

Then there were the studio albums that had just a few good tracks and/or no musician details etc.:

Robert Palmer’s Double Fun
Angela Bofill: Love In Slow Motion
Propaganda’s Wishful Thinking
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Freaky Styley
Randy Newman’s Bad Love
Dee-Lite’s World Clique
Blur’s 13 (also in retaliation at Graham Coxon’s constant/irritating ‘shaming’ of the 1990s in recent interviews)
Van Halen’s Women And Children First/1984/Diver Down/Fair Warning
Zawinul Syndicate’s Lost Tribes
John Coltrane: ‘58/Both Directions At Once
D’Angelo’s Black Messiah

Finally, there are those CDs that are just appallingly remastered:

XTC’s Nonsuch/English Settlement
Bill Bruford’s One Of A Kind (2018 version)

I’ve probably left quite a few out here. Yes I’ll probably rue getting rid of some of ‘em. But it had to be done. I hope they have gone to a good home. Now, which CDs will kick the bucket in YOUR gaff…? (And a tip of the hat to the excellent Reckless Records in Soho, who always offer good prices/friendly service. )

In Memoriam: movingtheriver.com salutes the fallen of 2022

Peter Bogdanovich

James Mtume

Vivienne Westwood

Jordan (AKA Pamela Rooke, punk pioneer and member of the Bromley Contingent)

Anton Fier

Douglas Trumbull

Charnett Moffett

Creed Taylor

Ronnie Cuber

Joey DeFrancesco

Mo Ostin

Shane Warne

William Hurt

Barbara Thompson

Peter Bowles

Andrew Woolfolk

Dennis Waterman

Charles and Sue Mingus at the White House jazz lunch, 18 June 1978

Sue Mingus

Fred Ward

Vangelis

Alan White

Philip Baker Hall

James Caan

Bob Rafelson

David Warner

Bernard Cribbins

Lamont Dozier

Anne Heche

Leon Vitali (PA to Stanley Kubrick from ‘Barry Lyndon’ to ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, actor in both)

Barbara Ehrenreich

Jean-Luc Godard

Ramsey Lewis

Louise Fletcher

Austin Stoker

Mike Schank

Robbie Coltrane

Joyce Sims

Keith Levene

Ric Parnell (AKA Spinal Tap’s Mick Shrimpton)

Irene Cara

Kirstie Alley

Jean-Louis Trintignant

Angelo Badalamenti

Mike Hodges

Terry Hall

Thom Bell

Monica Vitti

Ray Liotta

Paul Sorvino

Gal Costa

Tyrone Downie

Pharoah Sanders

Michael Henderson

Gary Brooker

Betty Davis

Japan: The Final Concert 40 Years On

40 years ago this week, Japan played their last ever gig. It was on 16 December 1982 at Nagoyashi Kokaido, the last date of a brief Far East tour.

To the band, it seemed pretty much like any other concert until someone started firing a water pistol at Steve Jansen as he tried to play the marimba solo on ‘Ghosts’. Then, as they came out for their first encore (‘Life In Tokyo’), the ping pong balls arrived, as did someone in a Father Christmas suit.

David Sylvian’s partner Yuka Fujii (such an important documenter of his 1980s work) filmed from the balcony of the hall as Japanese support act Sandii & The Sunsetz joined the band plus various people in animal suits.

Sylvian’s grin when he notices live mixer John Punter mucking about at the side of the stage is priceless. Much-missed Mick Karn and Jansen amuse themselves with some booze, guitarist Masami Tsuchiya attempts some Mick-style stage shenanigans and it’s touching to see this so buttoned-up of bands letting their hair down as they play their last ever live track: ‘Fall In Love With Me’.

The gig was a bittersweet end for Japan. Sylvian and Karn had fallen out irreparably (but would make up soon after). Manager Simon Napier-Bell was furious about the split (though would initially go on to manage Sylvian as a solo artist) as they were poised to become massive and had never sounded better.

Upon hearing of the band’s decision to break up, he reportedly asked for his full (back-dated) commission, as was his contractual right, leaving everyone in the band except Sylvian basically penniless. But – pending a strike from Jansen and Barbieri – he eventually relented and gave each band member £6,000 for the tour.

But huge credit to Japan for splitting when they did – a host of inferior imitators would come along in their wake.

Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop With Tony Hymas & Terry Bozzio

Keyboard player Tony Hymas had one of the weirder music careers of the 1980s.

He began the decade helping to make There And Back one of Jeff Beck’s best albums, then popped up in a supergroup called PHD with singer Jim Diamond and drummer Simon Phillips, getting a classic UK one-hit wonder ‘I Won’t Let You Down’ (#2 in 1982!), then played on/wrote arguably the best track from Beck’s pretty poor 1985 album Flash, and then…not a lot for a while.

But he was absolutely vital in Beck’s career comeback courtesy of Guitar Shop, released in October 1989. You might even call it Beck’s last great album, and arguably Bozzio’s too.

They recorded at Jimmy Page’s residential Sol Studios in leafy Cookham, Surrey (Beck later reported: ‘When we finished the album, I left me bike in his shed, so he got a bicycle out of it too…’!). The album ended up taking eight months to write and record because Hymas brought a chess board with him.

Beck took genres that he’d touched upon throughout his career – blues, reggae, rockabilly, metal, funk, fusion – and used them as a jumping-off points, working up material with Hymas and Bozzio in the studio.

And it’s very memorable material. On the title track Beck fondly mocks the gear obsession of guitar magazines, and goes through a range of tones and effects in the process, but…it all just sounds like Jeff. A Strat or Telecaster, distortion/delay pedals, and that’s it. It’s all in his fingers.

On the masterpiece that is ‘Where Were You’, he plays the lion’s share of the melody (reportedly very influenced by the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir AKA Les Voix Bulgares) with harmonics and very judicious use of the whammy bar, bending in and out of notes with just the right amount of wrist tension.

Bozzio plays a blinder – mostly reining in his formidable technique at the expense of groove and presence – but unleashes some seriously quick double-bass playing on ‘Sling Shot’. Thrash drummers beware. And there’s THAT amazing fill at the end.

Hymas is a great accompanist – you hardly miss real bass and only very occasionally yearn for another instrumental foil for Beck. A couple of tracks on the album became live staples too, played in concert to this day – ‘Big Block’, ‘Where Were You’ and ‘Behind The Veil’.

Guitar Shop did OK in the States, making #49, but weirdly didn’t chart in the UK. But it did win a Best Rock Instrumental Grammy award in 1990. Their Hammersmith gig of 29 July that year was one of the loudest ever heard at the venue. Beck talked up the possibility of a second album and tour but it never happened. They did reform for Jeff’s birthday party at the Royal Festival Hall in 2002 though. And El Becko got on ‘Rapido’:

 

Miles Davis: The Bootleg Series Vol. 7 (That’s What Happened)

The heart always beats a little faster when there’s news of a ‘previously unreleased’ Miles project. And if it’s from the 1980s, even better.

The era is still one the least understood/lauded periods of Miles’s work, despite the stellar efforts of George Cole.

It also has not been served well posthumously, particularly by his final label Warners; in recent years. there has been the weirdly undercooked/incomplete Rubberband project, and the appallingly-mastered/incomplete Warners Years box set.

So hopes were high for Sony’s new Bootleg Series 7, which takes in the years 1982 to 1985 and looks at the sessions that made up the (classic) albums Star People, Decoy and You’re Under Arrest. The packaging looks OK:

But what about the music? Before his death, Teo Macero, producer of many epochal Davis albums and also Star People, was very critical of the ‘complete sessions’ boxes that appeared after Miles’s demise. It’s safe to say he would not like this one either.

We essentially get a collection of long studio jams, with occasional familiar sections that Teo edited in to the final masters, plus some alternative versions of some You’re Under Arrest material, some full-length, unedited versions of released tracks and one or two outtakes such as ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’.

The full, unedited versions of ‘Freaky Deaky’ (Darryl Jones’ first recording with Miles) and ‘Katia’ (before Miles took his razor blade to John McLaughlin’s remarkable solo) are well worth hearing. Marcus Miller plays a brilliant bass solo on ‘Remake Of OBX Ballad’. There’s also a really strange duet between legendary jazz trombone player JJ Johnson and Miles on keyboards.

Unlike some of the previous Bootleg Series albums, there’s a lack of interesting studio chatter, which would have enlivened things (though there is the occasional funny Miles interjection). And there are still tracks that refuse to leave the vaults, such as Miles’s version of Nik Kershaw’s ‘Wild Horses’.

Disc one just contains too many formless jams, with Mike Stern, Miles and Bill Evans struggling to put together cogent solos (despite Al Foster’s beautiful drumming), and basically the band is crying out for John Scofield’s arrival in autumn 1982. He brings immediate relief, from both a soloing and compositonal perspective. The live disc is serviceable and quite well recorded, but certainly not one of the best nights from the 1983 tour.

Essentially, we learn three things from the very uneven Bootleg Series 7: Scofield was a vital addition to Miles’s band and prolonged his career, Miller was Miles’s best bass player of the 1980s and Macero did a great job on Star People. But we probably knew all of that already.

So, basically, it’s another opportunity missed. I’ll stick to the original albums, with one or two exceptions. But you gotta check it out if you’re a fan of Miles’s 1980s music. George Cole covers the box in a lot more detail here.

And look out for new documentaries about Darryl Jones and Scofield.

Sinead O’Connor: Nothing Compares

It’s easy to forget just how massive Sinead O’Connor was back in the early 1990s. Her remarkable voice, forthright views, striking looks and of course THAT ‘Nothing Compares To U’ video made her a household name on both sides of the Atlantic.

But there’s also no doubt she was one of the most provocative and outspoken pop stars of her generation, then virtually ‘cancelled’ due to her very public stance on the Catholic Church. ‘Nothing Compares’, a superb new documentary from director Kathryn Ferguson, reinstates O’Connor to her rightful place as important artist and fearless trailblazer.

Ferguson nods to Julien Temple’s classic Sex Pistols doc ‘The Filth & The Fury’ by relying on O’Connor and her friends/collaborators to narrate her story off-screen, while using a huge collection of archive material and home movies – much of it previously unseen – to drive the narrative.

There are troubling details about her childhood shot through with some remarkable footage from the Magdalene Laundries. O’Connor escapes Ireland as soon as possible and we cut to the exciting London live music scene of the mid-to-late 1980s with spellbinding archive of her in her pomp, an artist who absolutely has to make music.

Then there’s a fair deal about her early dealings with the industry, and a lot of it isn’t pretty – to say that the male record-company paymasters do not come out of this period well would be a huge understatement. Interview footage of the time shows her to be softly-spoken, polite and intelligent, even during a Gay Byrne chat show in the presence of her parents.

And then we revisit the 18 months or so when O’Connor was virtually persona non grata in the USA, courtesy of her extraordinary appearances on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and the Bob Dylan tribute concert. If you haven’t seen these moments, I won’t spoil them for you, suffice it to say that if Pussy Riot carried them out today they’d be seen as cutting-edge protest/performance/art.

A minor criticism of ‘Nothing Compares’ would be that it ends very abruptly – we don’t hear much about O’Connor’s life and career post-1995, but no matter: it leaves recent docs about Bowie and Leonard Cohen in the dust. It’s moving, exciting, important and a must-see.