The period roughly between 1978 and 1985 was a golden age if you were a British or American session musician.
The mission: to sprinkle your unique brand of fairy dust over a song or album. You lived on your wits and gambled on your talent but your employers were more often than not creative artists at the top of their game.
As far as UK bassists go, Glasgow-born John Giblin, who has died at the age of 72, was always near the top of the list. He was famed for his melodic fretless bass style (though later pretty much disowned it, moving to five-string fretted and stand-up acoustic basses), starting his career with ex-Yes guitarist Pete Banks. He then hooked up with Brand X and Phil Collins and the rest is history.
After prestigious work with Kate Bush, John Martyn and Peter Gabriel, Giblin joined Simple Minds as full-time member in summer 1985 but left three years later after a falling out with producer Trevor Horn during the recording of Street Fighting Years. He also ran a much-loved rehearsal studio called Barwell Court near Chessington, Surrey.
Of course he was influenced by Jaco Pastorius but didn’t really sound like him. (Anyway, he traced that particular line from Eberhard Weber, who apparently claims Jaco ripped HIM off!) Giblin played memorable bass on tens of key tracks but here are seven that particularly registered with your correspondent, in chronological order.
7. John Martyn: ‘Some People Are Crazy’
movingtheriver’s introduction to Giblin’s work, he delivers a brilliant fretless commentary here, though I’m not even sure I realised it was a ‘bass’ circa 1985 – just superb music. It’s funky, flowing and also features those famed sliding harmonics, nicked from Ron Carter and Percy Jones. Giblin is also a talking head in the great Martyn documentary ‘Johnny Too Bad’.
6. Peter Gabriel: ‘Family Snapshot’
The whole of Gabriel III is of course a bass masterclass but Giblin and Gabriel fill in the backstory of the troubled political assassin to great effect in the moving final minute of this.
5. Kate Bush: ‘Breathing’
Just business as usual for Giblin on this classic Bush anti-nuclear ballad, weaving arch, memorable lines around her vocals. Also listen out for his closing, sepulchral E-flat.
4. Phil Collins: ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’
The much-ripped off (hello Pearl Jam) line that propelled one of the better Beatles cover versions.
3. Simple Minds: ‘Let It All Come Down’
Giblin didn’t get many composer credits but this co-write was always your correspondent’s favourite track on Street Fighting Years (Jim Kerr apparently wrote the words).
2. Kate Bush: ‘Love And Anger’
Kate again, and this time Giblin lets fly with some brilliant slap bass in the final few minutes alongside David Gilmour’s tasty guitar solo.
1. Scott Walker: ‘Tilt’
Demonstrating his post-’80s five-string style, Giblin enlivens Walker’s classic title track with some strikingly ‘out’ notes and a great sense of space.
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.
It’s all radio presenter Nick Abbot’s fault. On a recent podcast, he mentioned finding himself with a tear in the eye when listening to David Gilmour’s second guitar solo on Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ in his car.
But it’s a subject almost totally ignored in print outside of scientific works: music’s effect on the body and mind. If you love it, surely it’s supposed to create a molecular change.
The last few years may also have precipitated a more emotional relationship to music than usual, despite the current industry obsession with data and algorithms.
So, hide the onions and pass the sick bag: here are a few tracks from the 1980s that may have occasionally been known to put a lump in this correspondent’s throat, driven by nostalgia, musical excellence, loss of innocence and who knows what else.
19. Tina Turner: ‘Private Dancer’
She wants a husband and some kids but somehow the music tells you that the protagonist is never going to get out from under…
18. Johnny Gill: ‘Half Crazy’
17. Keith Jarrett: ‘Spirits 2’
16. The Kids From Fame: ‘Starmaker’
15. Peter Gabriel: ‘Lead A Normal Life’
Hard to think of a piece of music that better expresses loneliness, but there’s compassion too.
14. Christopher Cross: ‘Sailing’
13. Blondie: ‘Atomic’
12. The Pretenders: ‘Hymn To Her’
11. Art Pepper: ‘Our Song’
Gratuitous sax and violins. Recorded 18 months before his death, inspired by meeting his widow Laurie, Pepper seeks redemption for a largely selfish, itinerant life – does he find it? He tries bloody hard.
10. Jaco Pastorius: ‘John & Mary’
9. Pino Donaggio: ‘Blow Out (closing titles)’
The melody maestro’s beautiful theme from Brian De Plasma’s 1981 film starring John Travolta and the director’s then-wife Nancy Allen. A critic once said that her character’s death in the movie is the first one De Palma seems to care about – Donaggio’s music is the reason.
8. Madonna: ‘Oh Father’
7. David Bowie: ‘Absolute Beginners’
It’s the hope, not the despair. Maybe THIS time it’s all going to work out, ‘just like in the films’…
6. David Sanborn: ‘Imogene’
5. Dexter Gordon/Herbie Hancock: ‘Still Time’
The double meaning of Herbie’s title says it all – Dexter’s beautiful soprano playing is fragile yet also somehow ageless.
4. Prefab Sprout: ‘Moving The River’
3. Janet Jackson: ‘Livin’ In A World (They Didn’t Make)’
Just for the sheer beauty of Jam and Lewis’s composition. Janet’s words augment that.
2. Scritti Politti: ‘Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry For Loverboy)’
1. The Police: ‘Driven To Tears’ (only joking – that’s enough tearjerkers… Ed.)
If you’ve got the stomach for it, chime in with your tearjerkers below.
Peter Gabriel’s brilliant 1980 self-titled album is probably best known for its much-discussed ‘gated reverb’ drum sound, the ‘no cymbals’ rule and the tracks ‘Games Without Frontiers’ and ‘Biko’.
The record portrayed various characters on the fringes of society, whether due to war, intolerance, mental illness, crime or racism.
But its penultimate track, the somewhat forgotten ‘Lead A Normal Life, is a chilling, minimalist classic whose power grows with each passing year. It’s set in an unnamed, uncharacterised institution – a borstal, high-security prison, crisis centre or mental asylum? The latter seems most likely.
It’s fair to say mental illness was a taboo in late-1970s Britain, even while the borstals were subject to Thatcher’s ‘short, sharp shock’ doctrine (in the era of Alan Clarke’s devastating film ‘Scum’), unemployment and institutional racism were rife, crime was on the increase, the Yorkshire Ripper rampant and The Troubles in Northern Ireland very much on the agenda.
In short, it sometimes felt like this song WAS normal life in 1979. And many aspects of life in 2021 may lead one to a similar conclusion.
Legendary Atlantic A&R man Ahmet Ertegun, upon hearing Peter Gabriel III, reportedly asked if Peter had recently spent any time in an asylum. This may have hit closer to home than is often reported.
Gabriel elaborated a little on ‘Lead A Normal Life’ in September 2013’s MOJO magazine: ‘I think the assumption was that you couldn’t write about something like that unless you had experience of it. I later discovered I had depression around the time of my marriage breaking up (in early 1987). But maybe there was something more there.’
The lyric is very brief, but its power comes from colloquial, off-hand phrases, as if spoken by a (somewhat blithe) visitor of an inmate (or an ‘official’ visitor – ‘A Clockwork Orange’ came to mind while listening again recently). Despite the calming view of the trees, surely the institution is anything but ‘nice’.
Musically, the track is built around Morris Pert’s minimalist marimba (and slung mugs or child’s xylophone?), Peter’s haunting Yamaha CP-70 piano figure/ominous chords and Fritched, primal-scream vocals (with treatments courtesy of Larry Fast), Jerry Marotta’s tribal toms, David Rhodes’ guitar loop (or feedback?) and Dick Morrissey’s brief, stacked tenor saxes.
Producer Steve Lillywhite expertly uses muting/fading-in and deep reverb to create big black holes in the track, crafting a cogent arrangement in the process which easily holds the attention for four-plus minutes. It’s an object lesson in how to use silence to enhance a mix.
‘Lead A Normal Life’ is a masterpiece on a subject rarely touched in ‘rock’, evoking loneliness and disturbance in equal measure, shot through with Peter’s trademark compassion. He’s even played it live a few times, to chilling effect.
Intelligent pop was alive and well in summer 1988 with key albums from Prefab Sprout, It Bites, Scritti Politti, Prince, Thomas Dolby…and, would you believe it, Joni.
Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm was a few years in the making after the underperforming (but excellent) Dog Eat Dog, and she was feeling the pressure. ‘I could use a hit’, she confessed to Q magazine in a long interview (they also gave the album a glowing four-star review).
She also granted a long interview to the NME, and was rewarded with her highest charting album (#26) in the UK since Mingus, almost ten years earlier. Stateside, off the back of a stinking, poorly-written Rolling Stone review, it reached a disappointing #45.
Released on 23 March 1988, Chalk Mark is based around a core band of Joni on keys, guitars and vocals, Larry Klein on bass and keys, Mike Landau on guitars and Manu Katche on drums. Larry and Joni co-produce.
There’s a real consistency to the sound, but, with its hermetically sealed nature, it seems almost critic-proof. There’s nothing to compare it too, apart from Joni’s own work.
Reviewers were generally confused by her choice to use the latest synth/sampling technology to illuminate anti-war, anti-advertising, anti-‘toxic crap’ (Joni’s words), pro-Native American songs. Well, that’s what’s known as ‘irony’…
Gorgeous opener and first single ‘My Secret Place’ was mostly recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Ashcombe House studio (he also offered her free studio time to make the demos for the album).
PG guests on vocals (though Joni plays all keyboards, including the memorable piano motif) while Katche delivers a superb, subtly-building performance with hints of Steve Gadd’s famous ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ groove.
As usual, musicians and singers were queuing up to appear on a Joni record. Steve Stevens, Billy idol and Tom Petty combine to memorable effect on ‘Dancin’ Clown’ (apparently one of Bob Dylan’s favourites), while Wendy & Lisa add their gossamer back-ups to sumptuous ‘The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Study War No More)’.
‘The Reoccurring Dream’ is a collage of advertising cliches over richly-chorded Joni vocals. The standout is possibly ‘Beat Of Black Wings’, a furious anti-war song with a stately, orchestral theme in an unusual 6/4 time.
Less effective are the plodding ‘Number One’, ‘Snakes And Ladders’ and ‘Cool Water’, despite some welcome guest vocals by Willie Nelson on the latter. All would probably have been more effective as solo, acoustic songs (she often promoted the album with solo versions of the former).
The album ends with Wayne Shorter’s hearty chuckle after his multi-tracked, soprano sax deluge on ‘A Bird That Whistles’ (apparently Joni’s only instruction to him in the studio was: ‘You’re the bird’!).
Joni was in a group of one in 1988, feeling no particular kinship with the female singer-songwriters making their way towards the end of the decade, the likes of Suzanne Vega, Julia Fordham, Jane Siberry, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Louise Goffin, Toni Childs and Tracy Chapman (the latter beating Joni to a Best Pop Vocal Performance Grammy in 1989).
She was still far ahead of the competition, but also painting herself into a corner. It was the end of an era. The acoustic guitar and ‘folky’ forms would re-emerge in time for the next album Night Ride Home; a logical, commercially-led move, but the end of a fascinating progression of sounds and styles during the ‘80s.
Read a great interview with Joni, Larry Klein, Billy Idol, Tom Petty and Willie Nelson about the making of the album here.
Here they come, these days about as welcome as turds in a jacuzzi, a collection of white, male, middle-aged ‘rockers’.
Then again, by the time of Live Aid, anyone over 30 was deemed a ‘veteran’, one of the funnier legacies of punk and New Pop.
Let’s survey the ages of some of the ‘ancient’ rock legends who appeared at Wembley Stadium and in Philadelphia on 13 July 1985: Pete Townshend (40), Paul McCartney (43), Freddie Mercury (39), David Bowie (38), Bob Dylan (44), Keith Richards (41), Bryan Ferry (39), Mick Jagger (41), Elton John (37), Brian Wilson (43).
Looking at the output of rock’s ageing alpha males during the ‘80s, angst, anger and lust were apparently the main drivers, alongside an interest in psychoanalysis and politics. Let’s take a look at some of their most coruscating work. For our purposes, we’ll define ‘mid life’ as 30 and above…
Peter Gabriel: ‘And Through The Wire’ (1980)
Upon hearing the early mixes of Peter Gabriel III, the US arm of his record company reportedly wondered if 30-year-old Pete had recently spent time in a mental asylum. But no, he was just letting off some steam, inviting Paul Weller along to supply raucous guitar, and unleashing a newfound, barely-concealed sexual energy: ‘Prowling the water hole/I wait for the kill/Pressure’s building/Overspill/I want you’. Ding-dong!
Richard Thompson: ‘Don’t Tempt Me’ (1988)
The folk/rock guitar/songwriting hero (38 at the time of recording) employed a killer US drums and bass team (Mickey Curry/Tony Levin) to carry off this pile-driving, piss-taking portrait of male jealousy and ‘little man’ syndrome. Note that he’s only ‘halfway’ out of his seat… Superb.
The Police: ‘Mother’ (1983)
Andy Summers (40 at the time of recording) takes some inspiration from Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ for this monstrosity, a hysterical, Oedipal blues in 7/4 time, very much inspired by his pal/guitar partner Robert Fripp. It’s quite funny to think that it was a contractually-obliged inclusion on the enormous-selling Synchronicity album, listened to by millions of unsuspecting teenagers before the emergence of the ‘skip’ button.
The Police: ‘Synchronicity II’ (1983)
Sting (31 at the time of recording) filters a Carl Jung concept through the story of family discord, a father’s paranoia and disquiet literally spawning a monster (in a Scottish loch!). Along the way, there’s also a barely concealed hatred for the common sprawl, ‘packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes’ during the morning commute, and the protagonist’s secretaries who ‘pout and preen like cheap tarts in a red-light street’, while Sting, Summers and Stewart Copeland lay down one of the most aggressive grooves in the band’s history. Scary, strange, midlife stuff.
David Bowie: ‘It’s No Game (Part One)’ (1980)
33-year-old Bowie is jolly well peed off about…everything. There was certainly a lot to be angry about in 1980, and accordingly his Scary Monsters album dealt with some of the fears he felt for his son, from the increasingly bold tabloid press to the ever-present right-wing bully boys. In surely the most histrionic vocal performance of his career, he sounds terrified of the ‘fascists’ and violent revolutions on his TV screen.
Robbie Robertson: ‘Hell’s Half Acre’ (1987)
From the classic self-titled album, Robertson (43) sounds seriously teed off about the legacy of the Vietnam War, and more specifically, The Battle For Cu Chi of 1965/1966 (‘Down on Hell’s half acre/Shakin’ with fever/Rumble in the jungle’). Tony Levin and Manu Katche make for an appropriately barnstorming rhythm section and Robbie’s guitar is almost Clash-like in its viciousness.
To some, the advent of the 12” single in the early ’80s was musical sacrilege; but others it was a new dawn, a chance to hear your favourite song in widescreen format, expanded into an epic and not bound by radio conventions.
The 12” came about at an exciting time in music when a few things were colliding: the cult of the ‘star’ producer, club culture, sampling, dub techniques, electronic music moving into the mainstream and an ‘anything goes’ post-punk ethos.
Talented sound designers such as Trevor Horn, Gary Langan, Shep Pettibone, John Potoker, Francois Kevorkian, Alex Sadkin and Steven Stanley were in the right place at the right time. And it probably helped that sales of 12” singles contributed to weekly chart positions, so the stakes were high.
So let’s have a look at some key artefacts of the 12” revolution, a great time in music when anything – well, almost anything – went. A few of these I now prefer to the originals.
21. Paul Young: ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’ (1985)
Laurie Latham’s completely mad mix seems entirely designed to annoy the neighbours. A cacophony of metal guitars, Pino Palladino’s floor-shaking, P-funk-influenced bass and bizarre samples. And is that a jazzy riveted cymbal slinking into the mix from time to time?
20. A Guy Called Gerald: ‘Voodoo Ray’ (1989)
A timeless collection of house music tropes which doesn’t ever seem to date. Simplicity is the key, with subtly-shifting riffs.
This one seems impossible to find on the internet or any other compilation album apart from the marvellous Slipstream 2-LP set which came out on Beggars Banquet in 1982. It’s a feast for the eardrums with gorgeous, spacey delays and twinkling Moog lines sprinkled into the mix.
18. Yes: ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ (1983)
Remixer Gary Langan skillfully juggles of all this classic track’s trademark features: Trevor Rabin’s chiming guitar figure, the ethereal backing vocals and those crazy samples. Plus you can really hear Alan White’s drums here – never a chore.
17. Joni Mitchell: ‘Shiny Toys’ (1985)
Joni’s a name you probably wouldn’t expect to see here but remixer Francois Kevorkian had great raw materials to play with – Thomas Dolby’s dub-style treatments, Mike Landau’s lush rhythm guitar, Vinnie Colaiuta’s killer drums and all the silly vocal overdubs.
16. ABC: ‘Poison Arrow’ (1982)
Trevor Horn ups the ante with a cool, extended lounge-jazz intro and lots of little musical motifs, a new bass part and some new guitar solos.
15. Michael Jackson: ‘PYT’ (2017)
I can’t resist including this recent discovery – someone has somehow got hold of the Thriller masters and put together a real classic. It’s even funkier than the original, if that’s possible.
14. Madonna: ‘Open Your Heart (Maxi Extended Version)’ (1986)
Steve Thompson And Michael Barbiero’s exciting mash-up of Motorik sequencers, Jonathan Moffett’s sick drums and Madonna’s strident vocals, all adding up to an ‘I Feel Love’ for the 1980s.
13. Phil Collins/Philip Bailey: ‘Easy Lover’ (1985)
Mixing engineer John Potoker cut his teeth working with Miles Davis and Steely Dan, and his sonic mastery shows through with this stunning reimagining of a somewhat corny single, bringing the originally-submerged drum machine right to the fore and adding loads of top-end. His nickname wasn’t ‘Tokes’ for nothing…
12. Scritti Politti: ‘Hypnotize’ (1985)
Gary Langan was at the controls again for this stunning collision of ’50s B-Movie voices, swooning synths, rhythm guitars and bangin’ machine beats. The only thing missing is some serious low-end.
11. Grandmaster Flash/Melle Mel: ‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’ (1984)
Sylvia Robinson arguably laid down the groundwork for all future 12” singles with this 1984 classic.
10. Prince & The Revolution: ‘Mountains’ (1986)
If you – like me – are always frustrated when this track fades out on the album/single version, have no fear because this remix carries on for another six minutes in the same vein, and turns into one of the sickest grooves Prince ever committed to vinyl.
9. Peter Gabriel: ‘Sledgehammer’ (1986)
Another entry helmed by John ‘Tokes’ Potoker, this one boosts the top-end again, adds some scary reverbs and focuses on David Rhodes’ guitar, Gabriel’s piano/vocal ad-libs and Manu Katche’s drums to superb effect. I now prefer this version…
8. Eric B & Rakim: ‘Paid In Full (Seven Minutes Of Madness Mix)’ (1988)
Coldcut put together this sonic feast, one of the most sampled 12”s of all time. You’ve probably heard almost everything on this remix 100 times on other tracks.
7. Thompson Twins: ‘Lies’ (1983)
Alex Sadkin brings his Compass Point mastery to this remix, adding a real drummer (Sly Dunbar?) and bass player, and pushing the sequencers and percussion right to the fore.
6. Grace Jones: ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ (1985)
‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ is possibly the more artful Grace remix, but this is included for its irresistible groove, and the fact that I always want the original single to go on for twice as long as it does. Also I love the ‘false’ ending and off-stage shout (Horn?) at 3:40.
5. Donna Summer: ‘Love Is In Control (Dance Version)’ (1982)
You could hardly go wrong with Quincy Jones and Bruce Swedien at the controls, but this remix just brings out the sheer luxurious beauty of this single, and various sections are repeated and amplified to superb effect.
4. Will Powers: ‘Adventures In Success (Dub)’ (1983)
Chris Blackwell’s protegé Steven Stanley was in charge of this fascinating dub, completely dispensing with Lynn Goldsmith’s vocals and delaying the reveal of Sting’s bass for as long as possible.
3. Propaganda: ‘Duel’ (1985)
Included mainly for Steve Lipson’s beatific long guitar solo during the outro, and the fact that it sounds like it could go on forever…
2. Paul Hardcastle: ’19 (Destruction Mix)’ (1985)
A chilling remix which brings out a little more detail of the single version, adding more spoken-word excerpts from the ‘Vietnam Requiem’ documentary and lengthening the funky drum breakdowns.
1. Frankie Goes To Hollywood: ‘Rage Hard’ (1986)
Stephen Lipson and Paul Morley created this insane confection, a kind of Young Person’s Guide To The 12”, featuring Pamela Stephenson introducing all the clichés of the genre, Viv Stanshall-style. Only ZTT can do this. (It seems sacrilege to leave Frankie’s ‘Two Tribes (Annihilation)’ out, but this gets the nod for sheer balls).