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.

Channel 4 @ 40: Best of the 1980s

This post may not mean much to readers outside the UK but it was a huge deal when Channel 4 – the fourth British terrestrial TV station – launched 40 years ago this week on 2 November 1982.

Excitingly, movingtheriver’s dad had got a gig at the burgeoning channel and we moved back to London in May 1982 after a few years away to prepare for lift-off. The celeb idents started in late summer with advice on how to tune your TV, and suddenly at 4:45pm on 2 November the station was on the air with an edition of ‘Countdown’.

It felt very post-punk in its early days, consistently challenging racism, sexism and homophobia (you might even say it ‘politicised’ a generation – maybe an exaggeration, but I’ve never met a fan of ‘The Comic Strip Presents’ who was also a racist…), giving minorities a voice and bringing mostly excellent British films courtesy of Film (on) Four, brilliant homegrown alternative comedy, US imports and live music into the mix.

Channel 4 also got a reputation early on for lots of swearing and ‘naughty’ foreign films – red rag to a bull for my generation. And, despite the Tories’ current assault on the station, it seems to be going strong – at least ‘Channel 4 News’ and ‘Countdown’ are.

Here’s a personal selection of memorable shows/films from the first eight years of Channel 4, in no particular order. They did the 1980s proud.

20. Meantime

19. Wired

18. When The Wind Blows

17. The Snowman

16. The Tube

15. Cheers

14. P’Tang Yang Kipperbang

13. The Comic Strip Presents

12. The Max Headroom Show

11. The Avengers

10. Scully

9. The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross

8. Robin Williams: Live At The Met

7. Clive Anderson Talks Back

6. Whose Line Is It Anyway

5. The Incredibly Strange Film Show

4. Star Test

3. Mavis On 4

2. Fifteen To One

1. After Dark