Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
This week I have been mostly listening to … some of my favourite LPs.
Sunday afternoon in the snow listening to one of my all-time favourite records…
Wally Badarou – Echoes – Island Visual Arts 1984
An album that completely defies all attempts at categorization. Its Discogs listing describes it as ‘Future Jazz’ – a genre I’m pretty sure that Luke Unabomber just invented for fun – and ‘Downtempo’ – terms that weren’t widely used in music until the mid `90s, while Echoes was released in 1984. Indeed, my introduction to it was through the track Mambo, which Massive Attack basically rapped over on their debut record, Daydreaming – so you could add trip hop to the list of genres that Wally Badarou invented a decade early.
Echoes is an LP with influences as wide-ranging as afro beat, ambient electronics, calypso, dub, jazz, and modern classical, but all with a dreamlike, fluid quality that we’ve come to associate with Compass Point Studios, Nassau – Chris Blackwell of Island Records` now legendary recording studio where some of the finest long-players ever created were made. Wally was one of The Compass Point Allstars – the musicians who graced albums from Talking Heads, Robert Palmer, Gwen Guthrie, …and who’s membership also includes Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Steven Stanley, and Barry Reynolds, but here Wally pretty much plays everything himself. He must have given the rest of the lads the afternoon off. Incredible.
Another LP that defies categorization, or even explanation?
François Kevorkian presents Jah Wobble, The Edge, Holger Czukay – Snake Charmer – Island Records 1983
First off, let’s say what an amazing label Island Records is. Although this wasn’t recorded at Compass Point Studios – rather the Fallout Shelter in London – it was mixed at Island`s Sarm West Studios in Ladbroke Grove. A beautiful studio that I’m lucky enough to have visited, and which was responsible for some incredible music. Sadly, it’s now apartments – gentrification, not so amazing. Secondly, isn’t it incredible that we live in a world where Arthur Russell and The Edge co-wrote a song together, and that The Invaders Of The Heart and members of Can all played together on a record. The co-written Hold On To Your Dreams is such a beautiful song, and often referred to as one of Arthur`s best. Snake Charmer (Reprise) is very similar to Jah Wobble`s How Much Are They? A surprising Loft classic. They share a little bit of that lovely piano line, which was also sample on the big Spanish balearic favourite, Es Imposible, No Puede Ser, years later. Oh, and someone called Animal plays on this LP, but as they’re credited with guitar, I’m guessing that it’s not the drummer from The Muppet Show? I’ve no idea how this record came to be made, or how all these people all came together, but I’m very glad they did. Maybe someone out there can tell me?
After posting this, someone suggested I post it to the François Kevorkian`s World Of Echoes Facebook group to see if Francois could shed any light on the project. He did:
FK: Balearic Mike, This was the first production project I did for Island Records after leaving Prelude as A&R staff. I had mixed U2 and became friendly with Dave Evans, so I figured it was natural to ask him to play on one of the songs, and when Island asked me who I might want to work with, I told them I was very enamored with the How Much Are They? track from the previous year, which Jah Wobble did in collaboration with Holger and Jaki. So it felt right to try and rekindle the same magic, and they came over to London for a few days. Also I insisted that I wanted Paul ‘Groucho’ Smykle as my engineer, because I was so taken by his dub mixes on the Dub Factor LP by Black Uhuru. Altogether it was a very loose and experimental series of sessions. It was the first time I`d used the new Linn Drum™ I had just bought, learning by doing. Some of the music on there has held up very well, in hindsight we should have probably asked someone else to sing on Snake Charmer, but this gave it a truly authentic quirky post-punk feel. I commissioned Arthur Russell to write lyrics for one of the tracks which I had already named Hold On To Your Dreams, and got a proper vocalist to do it in NYC. The rest of the E.P. was all done at the Fallout Shelter Studios in London.
And back to Compass Point we go!
Talking Heads – Remain In Light – Sire Records 1980
Fear Of Music to Little Creatures is such an astonishing run of LPs that it’s really hard to choose one that stands out, but for me it’s always this one that I want to play first. Back to Compass Point Studios Nassau we go, as did Talking Heads and their new best buddy, and producer, Brian Eno. What they made there together still sounds like nothing else of its time, and bands who want to do something innovative still look to it as a touchstone. From the scratchy funk and afro-beat rhythms of Born Under Punches and Crosseyed And Painless, the classic disco-not-disco grooves of Once In A Lifetime, to the ambient, balearic soundscape of Listening Wind, this all still sounds like the future of music, 41 years after it was released. Must be something in the water at that Compass Point place?
Oh my! Are there any records in my collection more important than this one?
The House Sound Of Chicago Volume 2 – FFRR / London Records 1987
The opening bars of this compilation have Curtis McClain acapella singing, “I’m never gonna’ let you go!”. Boy was that an understatement and then some! That was the opening salvo from On The House – Pleasure Control – mixed by Ron Hardy. If that wasn’t enough of a premonition, next up we have Adonis, quite simply telling us that we’re all “Too far gone, ain’t no way back”, yet another startlingly prescient vision of my – and our – futures.
Like most kids still at school when house music first blew in from Chicago, compilations were a lifesaver – that, and taping Stu Allen’s Bus ’Dis radio show on Key 103 on a Sunday night. The first volume in this series was great, no denying, but I haven’t kept hold of it after obtaining the 12s, but I have kept this one. This LP was the point when you knew that house music wasn’t going to be something that came and went, like Washington go-go, but something that you would spend the rest of your life in love with. Focusing on the Trax label, plus a few from Dance Mania, the run of tracks on Side 2 – after, the let’s be frank, totally shit What’s Up Rocky by Boris Betanoff – consisting of Sweet D`s Thank Ya, Mr. Fingers` Can You Feel It, and Virgo`s R U Hot Enough, is I think the point where it was “no way back” for me, and the start of a journey of discovery that would lead me to discover so many musical secrets – for example, that Sweet D was basically an edit of a Cheryl Lynn record. A journey that I’m happy spending the rest of my life making. If this isn’t the best compilation album ever made, it’s certainly the most important. Gotta have HOUSE!