British photographer, Steve Hiett passed away on August 28th. His passing made all the more untimely by the fact that his musical output is only moments away from being reissued, and reappraised. Hiett`s work as a fashion photographer earned him worldwide fame and recognition. In the late 60s, gigs in an art school band allowed him backstage access, which he used to snap stars, such as Hendrix and The Stones. This led to jobs with magazines like Vogue, Marie Clare, Elle, and The Face. Commissions that continued right up to his death. Hiett`s published recordings however were confined to a sole LP. Available only in Japan, it has become a coveted, collectable, cult item. After several years of label negotiations, Be With Records and Efficient Space, are now making the the LP, titled Down On The Road By The Beach, plus a second album of Hiett`s archive material, Girls In The Grass, available globally for the first time.
After the camera, the electric guitar was Hiett`s other instrument. On Down On The Road By The Beach he plays like Peter Green covering The Durutti Column. Each track beginning ringing as if he’s about to launch into Fleetwood Mac`s Albatross, before weaving intricate six-string filigree. Slow dancing, slow blues licks, and bent, crying, tremelo`d notes. Betraying his post-World War II teenage years, melodies echo Tin Pan Alley pop and rock & roll hits of the `50s. Hiett covers Santo & Jonny, Eddie Floyd and Chuck Berry. The latter`s Roll Over Beethoven revived as a laidback reprise. Swathed in reverb and with its bass strings buzzing like The Beach Boys` Good Vibrations. All of it sounds like it`s been fed through an exotica filter, and translated for the twang of Hawaiian steel slide. Bringing comparisons to Japan’s own exotica obsessive, Haruomi Hosono, and so, in turn, young Hosono fanatics such as Mac DeMarco. Hiett must surely have been an influence on folks like Ducktails and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma. Looking Across The Street drifts into a funky clip – reminiscent of Eno collaboraters, Michael Brook and Daniel Lanois. Hot Afternoon could be an out-take from Eno & Byrne`s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Its riff, scratchy and tribal. Standing There is Hiett`s own An Ending (Ascent).
Hiett recorded Down On The Road By The Beach in Paris, New York and Tokyo. The product of a commission from Tokyo`s Gallerie Watari – who requested two tracks for a promotional 45, to be given away at a 1983 exhibition of Hiett`s photographs. When the gallery heard the single they immediately flew Hiett in to complete a whole LP. Hiring Japanese band, The Moonriders, to provide backing. The band`s contributions, however, are subtle. Since in the main what you get are atmospheres emitted by Hiett`s unadorned guitar, recorded in crystalline clarity. Drums for example are absent save the odd gentle kick keeping time. Accompanied by a book of photographs, the album slotted right into the sophisticated highly-stylized art / pop world of Japanese bands sporting Issey Miyake and captured on limited-edition laser-disc. Acts such as Dip In The Pool.
Girls In The Grass collects selections from tapes made in Hiett`s adopted home, Paris. Saturday afternoon sessions recorded between 1986 and 1997. Where r&b influences replaced the rock & roll. With Hiett on guitar and Simon Kentish manning a small synthetic orchestra. The mix of drum-machines and guitar sonically linking the album to the music of Be With Records label-mate, Tommy Guerrero. Grooves popping and clicking like a cool, finger-snapping, jazz robot. Casio sambas, and Bontempi bossa novas, backing Hiett`s phased phrases and microtone mirages. Ten previously lost, instrumental love songs – unrequited, but sun-kissed. These at their most Tommy G-like on the head-nodding funk of Shadows Across The Path, while another standout, Love That Bird, sounds like Hiett had been listening to Soul II Soul.
Steve Hiett`s Down The Road By The Beach and Girls In The Grass are released this Friday, September 20th. You can order copies directly from Be With Records and Efficient Space.