Bim Sherman`s My Whole World gets covered as a kind of wonky, wayward funk. Kick drum like a packing case being welly-ed, broken by bursts of stuttering delay. Ari`s mad warbling, yodeling, ear-splitting screams, centred by subtle smoky, after-hours, Spooner Oldham, Muscle Shoals keys. Ari occasionally slipping out of character, and confirming that she can indeed “sing” in a “conventional” sense.
Bim`s Got To Get Away is rendered pure drum and bass interplay. Everything else reduced to a manhandled ricochet. Michael Rose`s Observe Life is reworked as party – dance! – music. Mirroring the new wave / no wave of New York, ESG, Ed Balhman and Gina Franklyn`s 99 Records. My Love is NYC`s street corner do-wop via JA`s street corner rocksteady. B.B. Seaton`s ballad now sweet pop, punk-ed by rebel youth and Neneh`s couldn’t care vocals. So wrong it`s right.
The reading of Leroy Sibbles` My Guiding Star is haunting and haunted – pre-dating, foreshadowing, Portishead`s blues. A torched torch song, totally strung-out on heartache’s heavier than heroin high. A tremolo`d guitar harks after 50s noir. Joe Meek`s Telestar lost in Echoplex space.
For New Age Steppers reggae and dub weren’t gimmicks, just some experiment, or 12” marketing tool. They were core elements, intrinsic to the band, into which other contemporary influences then fed. A collective cross-cultural pollination brought about by chance meetings and cool new 45s. Nothing on Action Battlefield is “straight”. Everything is a mash-up of fresh tunes, available kit, and assembled visiting singers and players – hence a snapshot of a moment and completely unique*.
According to legend these sides were cut during all-night lock-ins – when studio time was cheap. Places like Gooseberry, beneath China Town`s Gerrard Street, and Southern on Myddleton Road in Bowes Park, packed midnight `til dawn, with friends just having fun. Jams, effectively improvisations – not only on conventional instruments – but more importantly primarily on the mixing desk**. Sherwood learning his craft, twisting and testing the parameters of sound. Employing Bunny Lee`s trick, of maximizing rhythms, mastering myriad versions. Mutations of mutations, with whoever was in attendance and up for it taking a turn on the mic. Then ploughing whatever profits directly into more sessions. Further opportunities to hone those skills.
There’s that famous anecdote of a distressed David Rodigan approaching Adrian, and asking, “What are you doing to reggae?” I think he followed that with a pleading, “Please stop.” Horace Andy’s Problems remade dread and menacing – cold with the concrete reverb of a disused warehouse – must have seemed like sacrilege but poor Rodi`s mind must have been blown by something like Nuclear Zulu. Its barely controlled explosions and wild wah-wah riff. Ari`s disembodied screeching orbiting a forbidden planet of sonic sci-fi – blasted by a phased and filtered battery, glitches and glimpses of static. Where only the piano provides anything vaguely familiar to hang on to.
*The only thing I can recall ever coming close was Anika`s 2010 LP on Invada.
**Brian Eno published his “groundbreaking” paper – The Recording Studio As A Compositional Tool – in 1979. Tubby had been mixing dubs since at least `73.
On-U Sound have remastered and are reissuing New Age Steppers entire back catalogue. You can learn more over at Bandcamp and Bleep.