Monday, 6 October 2014

Music and myth: A night with Gruff

I saw Gruff Rhys the other week. I really should have written it up sooner – but it’s been fairly hectic and frantic and non stop stop stop recently. 

If  there’s one furry animal who keeps up the appearances then it’s Gruff – whilst the band remain in some limbo state of stasis – well their name anyway – as all the other members are busy doing this and that (more to come about later on) in a furry or not so furry vein.  Gruff seems to churn out Mercury nominated collaborative albums by the bucketload – and there seems to be no dip in quality whatever he turns his exquisite eye and hand to.

I had originally planned to go with a long time friend who’s recently set up shop in the southbank concrete jungle – all education plans and talk – but he couldn’t make it – he had however managed to get me the tickets though – that unexpected joy of being on a guest list made me feel twenty years old again. Except I’m 43 now – grey and much fatter – but with the easy grin of child when it’s all coming for free.

 Not that it would have made it any better.

You see Gruff is wonderful company in the intimacy of the Queen Elizabeth Hall.  All set up ready for a recital that looks part concert, part lesson what with the power point in tow (ok it wasn’t a power point – it was a slide show – all labelled and organised - but you get my drift).

There’s a wonderful laconic relaxed nature to Gruff – it comes from that assured knowledge that what he’s doing is genuine I think – this is not postmodern trickery of the masses – it is a wonderful piece of exploratory pop wedded to an ancient ‘man-made’ (possibly) myth of a Welsh tribe conquering the America Interior and the efforts of one man to find out the truth some way back in the 1800s. It’s the outward monologue of an offbeat mindset that is Gruff Rhys.

So our gig begins with a film. Beautiful shot in high contrast, all long pans and shaky cuts as a professor in safari wear gives us the background on the Welsh’s role in the making the land of the free. Narrated by Gwyn A. Williams the short film covers the origins of the notion that Welsh tribes first settled in North America in the 12th century. It propels you back to your own childhood of BBC documentaries and early morning Open Universities output. It is flawless in its attention to detail – long shots of a walking man on Welsh hills and American landscapes. It is also funny.

Gruff is that genial host – effortlessly cool and funny in equally measure – he’s performing in wolf headdress with cue cards – record player and acoustic guitar – he’s explaining the journey and creating our journey and what a journey it turns out to be. Songs interspaced with image and explanation of the horrors that John Evans or Jean Evans or even Don Juan Evans went through in his quest to find out where the Welsh went.  From the opening  C&W tinged Tiger’s Tale, that soon segues into the ensuing Year Of The Dog, the audience are held pretty much spellbound for the best part of two hours. It’s good company to be in.

Oh did I forget to say – Gruff recreated the voyage – with a puppet. A grey muppet of austere stature and utter melancholia – it’s black and white felt (as imagined by Pete Fowler) serving to reinforce the tragicomic elements of this ‘story’. Gruff brings him on to cheers from the sold out venue – like an even more surreal moment from The Muppets.  And then proceeds to show us where he’d been and which tube line he’d travelled on – via the wonder of technology and beautifully framed pictures beamed from his ipad to the vast screen on stage. It’s fair to say Gruff looks lonely out there – but it’s clear the audience are willing him on.

Gruff has this wonderful flick of his wrist – and images zoom in and break up in pixels and fuzz – or jump back as if alive – it brings the whole story to life. And once again it’s funny. Combined with sounds – such as when John Evans is arrested in Baltimore (“the home of crack cocaine and The Wire”) or is it St.Louis -  and it becomes something else – like a scene from a B film – all zooms and chops as sirens ring out and the intensity of the zoom whilst manic is timed for comic perfection. Gruff's deadpan delivery only adding to the inherent humor in the hall. 

At times I actually shake with laughter – at school I used to spend a lot of time laughing with the friend I’d eventually gone along with the gig with – a one Richard Chester – who’s about to release a wonderful set of tunes with another furyy – Bunf – but that’s for a later post – and this is not about The Pale Blue Dots – yet.  We used to cut pictures out of the paper and bring them in to make each other laugh at inopportune moments in PHSE or History – laughter in the corridors of comprehensives – it was a steel town we didn’t have much else – but our odd pictures of Dave Hill, or Ian Botham’s engagement, Les Dawson’s eye or James Brown’s orange leather jerkin would get us through the day (and night for that matter)

And there was a moment in Gruff’s procedings where he expertly linked the Acid Trip scene from Easy Rider to the same cemetery where John Evans had been buried. His choice of photograph and that causal throwaway comment just had me howling. The juxtaposition of Hopper and Fonda in that cemetery and our journey with John was comedy timing at is finest. Seriously he should have his own sit com – it was spectacle and stand up. Beautiful combined and timed.

But we nearly never got there – as apple’s ipad warnings ominously flashed up on screen – with Gruff at first unaware of the 10% remaining life of his ipad.  Thus we – the audience were not going to follow this tale the way it had been originally intended – indeed. “To add to the suspense [of the story], we don’t even know if we’ll make it to the end” Gruff tells us - it's a tense moment but we're here for the ride. With time definately not on his side - and an aborted attempt at charging that actually reduced the power - it was only the 'back up solutions' of an audience member that saved the images that are so intrinsic to this musical monologue.

In some ways the show falling apart only made it more special – more riveting – with the ipad dying in front of our eyes and calls for the technician to find the right charger – we didn’t know whether Gruff would have to fly solo even further – unaided – without photographic evidence. So the tale was told quickly and effectively – leaving time for the songs to be played in a batch – reflecting the photos we had briefly glimpsed. Saying that Gruff – told the story with the aid of a dubplate with beats – a 7 inch of slow jam – a beat (poet) explanation with added bass.

It would be good to have this narration with the album – but all you get are the songs. And what wonderful songs they are – conjuring up the west – the (lost) tribes he meets and the travels of our character, the last conquistador, in full technicolour. Gruff performs them simply here – guitar upturned in hand – and ipad applications double tracking voices – or replaying moments – it’s what we’ve come to expect from Gruff – multiple things happen at once – out of seeming chaos and random sounds -come tunes of utter wit and beauty. These are not Furry tunes done by one man – this is his art maaaaaaaaan. This is his thing.

And I guess when the narration takes a back seat and the set takes on a more usual format - the songs aren't in anyway diminished by the lack of explanation. Instead - Gruff simply sings and we clap.

Because that's the response you have. And he tells us to with his 'Applause' cue card.

But it's The Swamp that brings me to my knees - as we lay John Evans to rest - Gruff sweetly sings the line, 'I'm not scared of dying, I'm just scared of making you cry' - it's poignant but not mawkish - it's soul singing of the highest order. So two hours later we're still there - wanting another and another - and Gruff doesn't disappoint - with some nods and winks to his own back catalogue - not the Furries - just his own.  Candylion and Honey all over - end the show. 

As harmonies build and soar - Gruff runs from the stage - one final command card in his hand - we applaud.

And he thanks us.

For a brilliant and technically accurate review of the concert you should read this:

There's also an app and DVD and soundtrack and lots and lots of things - you can find a link to those via Gruff's site

And here's a wonderful song from Gruff

Thursday, 11 September 2014

He will be missed

Robert Young has died.

I woke with the usual resistance to rise – cold morning and grey skies. It’s Thursday – not quite the weekend – it can be a hanging around day if you’re not careful. When I was younger it was the arrival of early hours hedonism  - but today I got up  - I washed – missed breakfast and replaced it with nicotine - a habit of youth so sadly not shaken yet.

I get to work – I work – I work.

Check the phone – sometime past ten o’clock.

Tagged in a post from the wonderful Jo – news seems to be emerging that Robert ‘Throb’ Young is dead.

I haven’t seen the man in 24 years but I’m genuinely shocked. And gutted.  And sad.

You can begin all this rock n roll casualty talk if you wish. And it may well be true – but check the record – check the record – check the guy’s track record.  He was the guitarist with Primal Scream. No solo projects. Nothing to distract him – except rock n roll. Primal Scream were a much maligned monster when I first met them – it had turned out all heavy and leather and the bowlheads wanted fey and inferior music. I wasn’t one of them. I loved the sheer power of The Scream’s new take on rock n roll in an age of jangly guitars and emerging grunge. Throb and Innes had bottled that MC5 magic - a double guitar assault with Bobby G in the middle - it was all effortlessly cool. They were wearing leather - their shirts were open - chelsea boots and chains. This wasn't anorak city.

Our little known band then – and little known band now  - managed to convince Paul at The Adelphi that we should support them – so he let us. We were third on the bill and got paid £25 quid or possibly £50. Our name wasn’t even on the poster.

We played in t-shirts freshly bought from Crusher – who was their touring manager and merchandise man and pretty much go to geezer.  We finished and The Scream had seen us – they liked it and asked us down to Sheffield the next night.

I know I’ve written this before. But indulge me. It just might get me writing again.

So we drove at speed to reach Sheffield – cars full of us and little else. It was a date with the screamteam. We’d been booked by them – not the venue – they would make it alright. I felt like a kid – these ‘adults’ of rock n roll asking us to play were little more than the big kids at school themselves – they were super cool.

The Scream – were open, honest, wild and full of promise.

And I’m hanging on to those memories.

That's Throb's guitar. The Williams Sheffield Take Two
So eagerly under prepared  we arrived in Sheffield. The third night ‘on the road’. We had no amps – little room for guitars and drums – but we we’re young and up for it. Toby leant Paul his kit. Henry leant ian his amp and Throb lent me his Les Paul – there was no rock star selfishness in the man. He wanted others to have a good time, to have a party.  Suddenly this two-bit rock n roll band (that’s us – not the Scream) were transformed by Marshall amps, solidly constructed guitars and drums. A mighty fucking racket for the rabble of fans. We used to have a song at the end of our ‘set’ all two chord stooges and feedback. Howling guitars and anarchy.

And I’m hitting this beautiful guitar’s pick-ups – driving that feedback out as the booze flowed through me.

Turns out I might have hit it too hard.

But Throb doesn’t mind. A broken Les Paul – it can be fixed – but not tonight. A little mild panic sets in – you know I only met the guy yesterday. He declares it ‘rock n roll’ and straps on the Flying V – effortless – cool – smoking throughout the gig. 

Robert Young made young girls and men fall in love with him.

As Gillespie and Innes said in their statement following his death Throb always saw the stage as a place to conquer. "When we go onstage it's a war between us and the audience" He would conquer it and everyone in that room. Bring then down with his battle sound. This wasn’t a man borne out of malice. He was always open. As my brother said to me – he made him feel welcome.  So I’ll remember the vodka, the hair, the embraces, the acid house parties, the screamadelica shenanigans, the talks, the recommendations and the women.

Throb and a young Rob Dillam (pre Adorable)
I’ll remember Robert Young.

And if running round the past and fitting me into the story makes me seem sad – a touch too nostalgic – then so be it. Hearing the news that he was dead forced me back there.

They're great memories.

I’ll miss Throbert Young. 

I’m turning down the Marshall to zero tonight.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Should you be in here 'reading' that?

I recently befriended Alan McGee on Facebook – you know were not friends – I met him a couple times – sold him some fanzines at a House of Love gig  - took him to the Gardening Club after an Adorable gig – all taxis and handshakes – and now he’s on facebook - it’s a social medium – you can distribute information and to be honest – McGee’s always been an entertaining fucker at the best of times.  Anyway he took to posting ( and he likes to post) about Shaun Ryder some weeks back and it just chimed with what I’ve said about him and reminded me what a character he is - Shaun - not McGee - i'll write about that later. 

Ryder is a genius. I don’t think there’s anyone in the last thirty years who can touch him.  You can tell me who you think matters – I’m prepared to listen – but right now I’m writing this about Shaun and those twisted insights into living and surviving that he gave us.

I never saw the Happy Mondays  - never saw The Roses either.  I was baggy just not into the whole gig spectacular. I’d fixated on tunes on 12 inches being played by DJs in warehouses. I never took my top off but I was wide eyed to it all. And throughout this The Mondays would be in the background – twisting my melons man – talking so hip. I first heard about them via the music press – pressed up on a Record Mirror 7 inch vinyl or talk of John Cale mixing it up with these youth from estates in Little Hulton  - that was probably 1987 – I wasn’t quite ready for the screech and funk of it then. My Manchester passion was still miserable and maudlin  - you’ve got to blame Morrissey for that – or even The Pistols – because without that legendary Free Trade Hall gig – blah blah blah.

Listening back to those early tunes on possible the best titled album of all time’ Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)’ it’s got the funk and reference to the nu-soul scene of the early eighties but played by lads with knocked off gear and tracksuits forming indie bands to get inside clubs and deal more drugs. Yet within the cacophony you can already hear Ryder just teasing out the stories of what it’s like to be working class, dispossessed, having fun and the constant grind of daily life. There’s a work ethic to this album. You don’t just turn this out on a night – do you get me? The Happy Mondays wanted to be big – wanted to be famous – there’s not much point otherwise.  Don’t misunderstand me – this isn’t social realism – it’s picareseque hyper realism – bending boundaries and minds.

But just that opening line from 24 Hour Party People,

How old are you?
Are you old enough?
Should you be in here watching that?

Already there are images conjured – connections made – there’s deviance and pleasure – it’s late night – or it’s early morning – either way – should we be here listening to this – are we old enough?  Home truths writ large in Manchester tones – that’s The Mondays. And I do like (the Happy) Mondays – shall I tell you why?

Shaun Ryder is underrated. He doesn’t always give ‘good interview’ – he coarse and wired, grumpy and tired – bongoed and bouncy. He’s all eyeballs and grins (oh wait a minute that was Bez) There’s a great deal out there on the internet about this Shaun and that Shaun. And references to lyrics and poetry and W.B Yeats and Whitman. And I ought to be careful here – because whenever you attribute knowledge and intellect to anything you also get people thinking you’re being sarcastic or being playfully postmodern with your wit – trying to catch someone out. There’s an article on the website sabotage times about Ryder and poetry and all the comments merge into a diatribe about people not understanding the author was taking the piss. Which I don’t think he was – and if he was – why? You shouldn’t be ashamed to make comparisons and discuss – and if you don’t want to do that – you’ve still got the tunes.

I don’t buy that dumbing down of the working class intellect. You know Ryder wasn’t a nine to fiver – he wrote lyrics for a band – he crafted words and depicted life – he wasn’t playing you as mugs he was authenticating the voice of an addled and e- generation – the product of education systems in the seventies and eighties that would rather hit you than fill you full of awe. You had to find that yourself – and that meant traipsing through the mire of part time love and infatuation, heady times and edgy vibes. Shaun pulled this stuff from his head – not because he wasn’t (stinkin’) thinkin’ but precisely because he got the script.

‘Oh son I’m thirty – I only went with your mother coz she’s dirty - And I don't have a decent bone in me - What you get is just what you see yeah.’

I haven’t got the space or time to do this post justice – and to be honest you’d be better off just reading Shaun’s lyrics and listening to the tunes.

I once sat in a bar with Shaun Ryder – the only time I’ve met him – this must have been 1992 – The Mondays were on self-destruct and Black Grape had yet to be realised. Ryder was early afternoon barflying – Guinness stockpiled and alone.  I was with a great mate at that time – Phil Fisk – I’ve mentioned him before he’s a photographer – he takes pictures of people – they appear in newspapers and that – he didn’t have a camera on that day – he wasn’t a photographer quite then.

We didn’t want miss an opportunity to say hello. So we did.

Ryder was welcoming, funny, open and honest. We talked about the post office, music and this and that. He looked older than his years – the monkey was still on his back – but he was good company – you know the living dead don’t get a holiday. I had to leave – meet lost lovers and all that – but I left him and Phil – he didn’t shuffle off – he was into conversation.

And you see that through his lyrics – all part conversations with figures we can’t see. It’s there in Wrote for Luck – the opening line ‘I wrote for luck – they sent me you.’  And there’s nothing wrong in recognising the simplicity in the work as being on par with this poet or that one.

Its words after all – why are our masses so scared of thinking that others might think that we think?

You know the working class have a brain to – they use it a lot – they free think in hard times. And Ryder’s had plenty of hard times. It’s good to see him back – all new teeth and eating well – he was always going to come out the other side. He’s escaped his roots by taking a route through life differently to some of those other chancers on estates all over our ‘green and pleasant land’ – this wasn’t just a northern thing – let’s not forget Liam from Flowered Up –  yet his mind still stands firmly there on the concrete stones of Salford streets.

So I’m celebrating the lyrics – I’m raising them up to high art. I always was a pretentious arse at the best of times – some things don’t change.  Shaun is a product of his times –speaking truth in simple rhymes – but they stick – they take root. I know that Shaun William Ryder has laid down beside ya – filled you full of junk. Junk of the highest quality. He’s articulating the inarticulacy of the then and now. He’s putting words to the stuttering thoughts, clenched fists and fried brains of the Thatcherite revolution – you could say he was creating ‘banter’ before it became a catchall for loose talk and ignorant opinion.  He tapped into the terrace chanter and pavement talk  - all unifying but keeping out the mainstream. (There’s an interview in The Guardian where the journalist translates ‘you’re twisting my melons man’ for the readers – it was a joke – but you could sense he thought he had to) and this is continued through the sublime work of Black Grape’s first long player.

‘I don’t read – I just guess – there’s more than one sign – but it’s getting less’

Ryder appropriated, regurgitated and ran with thoughts, he took from others and re-presented yet made the work his own.  I remember the utter wonder of Lazyitis – when he drafted in Karl Denver – he's taken a phrase – one you hear in every home – my mother would often accuse one of us as having contracted the lethargic bug – but here’s Ryder melding Ticket to Ride, Sly and Essex into a repetitive delight. It’s that appropriation coupled with his flair and wit that make it his song  - his set of lyrics.

‘And I hope I don’t come top of the class, Got no brown tongue lickin ass, can't do what he's asked
Won't do what he's asked

This is by far one of the longest posts - and I don’t feel like I’ve even half started. You on the other hand have probably had enough. I just need to mention the line that sticks with me most – from the epic Stinkin Thinkin  - I need to write a post on the underrated ‘Yes Please’ album – the crack  and coke fuelled mighty Factory fuck up  - that produced one the most fraught and fragile long players of the 90s. It wasn’t all big guitars and mod haircuts. It was much, much, more.

But when Ryder sings and Rowetta repeats ‘A steady job in a small town, guaranteed to bring you right down, guaranteed to take you nowhere, guaranteed to make me lose my hair’

It chimes and reminds me.

Why I got out.

You know Tony Wilson compared Ryder to Yeats – I’m havin’ it. Even if some of you won’t. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A new song by The Pale Blue Dots

I haven't written in a long time - it's that time of year.  I'm thinking of changing the whole thing around. So hopefully expect over the summer months a rage of interviews with a range of bands. 

Until then here is the new track by The Pale Blue Dots. You remember them don't cha? Bunf from the Furries and Richard Chester - making sublime sounds in studios.  It's on Radio Cyrmu tonight on Lisa Gwilywn's show and hopefully we'll be seeing a little more (re)action from The Dots over the coming months. 

Things have been slow to say the least - but I think according to more sources that the wheels are back on and we might actually see a long player and possible live dates this year. 

Until then here is the wonderful psychedelic ear worm that is Slow Reaction.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

NWA: Noise with Attitude

Right – this piece is about noise – it’s about recapturing the past and it’s about not having the time to book a ticket at 9am to a concert that I would so like to go to  – because I am at work. Because  I have hinted at this in the past - the changing ways of capitalism and the industry’s way of making a tidy sum – quickly – it accrues interest see –all that money pooled in one day – from your interest…see.  

So McGee announces the JAMC will play Psychocandy – three times – in November – in the two of his favourite cities for music (the other being Liverpool ) – but fuck it – you know London sells – so there’s a show there – I guess you can argue McGee brought these leather clad miscreants to the Smoke in the first place – so why shouldn’t he book a set in London 30 years on? Then it gets announced that Creation Management are up and running again and before you know it were right back there at the start.
Rolling down the hill falling and laughing and all that.

Careful, we might see The Mighty Lemon Drops playing some sort of ‘first’ album anytime soon. It’s like 1985 in 2015 (I think The Legend!’s going to put some 10” flexi out for RSD2015 (that’s record store day  folks) probably a red flexi – or possibly blue – but it will be limited edition -  to kind of sum it up…maaaaaaaaaan)

Now do not get me wrong – the JAMC were an awakening for a fourteen year old lad who’d missed out on that big punk/ plastic explosion – the JAMC were the third coming – an amalgamation of the Pistols, Velvets, Ronnettes and Stooges cool.

Absolutely grand – in so many ways.

And if I’m reaching for some noise it’s those boys I’m going for – all Spector beats – sqwawks and shrieks – rising feedback matching our rising alienation and the feeling that we just wanted to have a party (we’re gonna have real good time together). I recall the Whistle Test – 6pm in the evening and the scowl of Jim – swaying and posturing with his microphone – semi acoustic guitar slipping and a sliding around him – adding to the feedback fizz and William’s hunched guitar play all furious and on fire as Bobby and Douglas gave it that steady backbeat (you can use it) . It was riotous – not North London Poly riot – I mean generally riotous – it was noise on the telly – real noise.

Noise with Attitude (NWA) 
Now I loved The Smiths – they spoke to the insecurities of my teenage years – a confidence  expressing my feeling beyond thuggery – but you know I was never going to articulate that like Johnny Marr on the guitar – and thirteen olds shouldn’t write words to songs – they haven’t done out yet. They haven’t lived. So it was just me and my guitar – and as I said I was certainly no Marr – I’m hardly a Reid – but that cacophony and bluster – that attempt to control the sound yet let it run for itself – I thought I could give that go.

I never said I was a shy retiring teenager.

Those three chords gave you power and the ferocity of the JAMC’s raw power gave you confidence to try it out – in local pubs and clubs – on small stages or spaces with tables pushed aside – tuned up and turned up – irritating locals but not through choice – because you believed these were the best tunes ever written.  The Mary Chain did not set out to annoy – the just picked up the pieces from where rock n roll had fallen and broken. They put it back together. They meant it maaaaaaaan.

So the JAMC were perfect for me ( and you) they just used those basics of rock n roll and turned it into something of their own. This was a band hated by that muso scene – heavy on the muso scene – in their eyes they had no finesse – no grace – but to my eyes they simply had it all. I mean it – they had it all and I could at least emulate those ways – because I love/ hate rock n roll.  I just wanted something that was immediate – and so they were – Paul (my brother) duly purchased the album - we taped sessions from Janice Long, Jenson and Peel and fell in love with the whole fucking thing.

I still have a Jesus and Mary Chain T-shirt – I mentioned in a postway back then – one of the first or so – I still have that t-shirt now – it’s as old as Psychocandy.  I can’t get into it – I’m no lithe teenager now – in canvas and Chelsea boots.

So I probably won’t get to see/hear the JAMC –at the Troxy – because it will sell out – in minutes – faster than the length of ‘Upside Down’. We’re all into noise nostalgia now.  The good people of Shoreditch will lap it up. Perhaps that’s the way it should be - New audiences for old people.

But you know the JAMC are not a postmodern thing. They are the real thing.  That was modernity.  They were a part of my youth on the small streets of Scunthorpe – an alternative from the grind. I could hold my guitar to the amp and hope. As blast furnaces blew smoke to the skies.

Here’s to a wonderful set of concerts. Driven by sound and fury. Signifying something?  Enjoy it – because if they get half as close to that rush of energy from 1985 – then you’ll be in for a treat. 

Here is what I want it to look like . i actually think I have posted this before - but no one read it then (most likely like now) 

The Jesus and Mary Chain on The Whistle Test. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

We should all have a bit of Sly on a Saturday

I am not certain how I became aware of Sly and the Family Stone. Growing up in the seventies and eighties (and let's face it - I'm still trying to grow up now) their songs must have been around - all AM dials on old radios - as the family (my one) listened to Sly's one as they beamed through the airwaves as we danced to the music. Danced to his music.

Or there may have been a showing of the great Woodstock festival  - now this could have been on Two or Four. My memory is shot through with cider and getting to grip of the now - not the then. But somehow there's an image of Sly taking me higher on celluloid  - all sequins and groove that kind of blew my mind as I watched him create the ultimate funk stew - on a stage full of glamour to a crowd full of hippies.

And you know I could never trust a hippy (just saying)

And then there was a conversation with Andrew Innes - over drinks and mayhem in a Sheffield club backroom - all Ivy Ivy Ivy and Raw Power - and Andrew was telling us (that's me, Paul and Ian - of The Williams fame - okay - not fame - but you can dream can't ya?) that you should get some Sly in the collection - but not to go too deep too fast - you know lay off There's Riot Goin' On - until you've experienced the deep funk.

So as any young impressionable youth would do - you purchase the worn out tapes of heavy heavy funk that is that wonderful fug of a funk album. That muddied mix of euphoria and paranoia as screeches and slides collide in a foggy haze and daze of everything that is ultimately funky in Sly's universe. And it's great it made to tape - because There's A Riot Goin' On - is possibly one of the rawest funk excursions you'll ever here - it's flawed - yet it floors (do you get me?) You couldn't really re-master it - but I think Sly has - that ever-reclusive mutha - so hip that Prince looks up to him (and not just literally) I bought a tape version as well - so when that got heated and mistreated it only added to those takes from inside the studio Sly had created in his Bel Air mansion or The Plant studios in Sausalito, CA. Infact it turns out that Sly had had a bed installed in the studio and simply recorded his takes whilst lying down. It does have to be said - that by this time Sly was managed by gangsters and heavily addicted to the chokey and PCP.  So to even get to the stage where you've got a beautiful dark and muddied album was a miracle - Sly played most of the instruments himself - taping and retaping over and over again. 

There's even the heavy use of a drum machine - used instead of - or because of Gregg Errico's hasty departure from the paranoia fuelled existence of life with Sly and his entourage. This was band playing apart to create a unity -and it wasn't their usual way of working. For 'Family Affair' - the hit from the album - and some of the other tracks on the album, Stone had his industry peers and musicians, including contemporary soul acts Billy Preston, Ike Turner, and Bobby Womack lay down the sounds on Riot, instead of his bandmates. The album's muddy, gritty sound was due in part to this excessive use of overdubbing and erasing parts of the reel-to-reel tapes. In my mind - and I hope Sly's this made the whole thing better.

I don't play enough Family Stone in this family house - there was always something of the late night listen about Sylvester Stewart - but recently I put 'Trip to your Heart' on a CD in the car - all compilation for the kids. And as you can see I'm working backwards  -I'm in and out of that collection - ducking and a weaving - pilthering and pillaging - 'cause Sly started that riot with A Riot (do you get me?)

Which brings me to the inherent psychedelic substance of that song.  It begins like the past incarnation of Gravediggaz - all screams and yelps  - like the beginning of Diary of a Madman - but committed to tape some twenty-five years before.

And here comes the opening - all ayes and yeahs - which LL Cool J would lift as he got his Mama to knock us out. Add Sly to mix and all hell breaks loose and falls apart in this trip to your heart. As it shuffles towards that minor key and Sly's trip to our heart - you can already picture the capes, the jump cuts and mirror images of a video designed to represent the (sign of the) times.
There's always been this madcap - playful think about the Family Stone - up for a bit and ready to take you there. I remember reading somewhere back before the world of Britpop exploded and the Verve were just - you know The Verve - and Richard Ashcroft claiming that 'I want to take Higher' was his song of choice before a night on the town at the weekend.

We should all have a bit of Sly on a Saturday.

So here's some Sly for you too.