Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
30 years old today, and more memories of Manchester and Vinyl Exchange…
Massive Attack – Blue Lines – Wild Bunch / Circa 1991
Released on the 8th April 1991, just a couple of months after I started working at Vinyl Exchange, this was another LP that was universally liked by all who worked there at the time. But actually, back then there weren’t that many of us. I was the 4th full time employee when I joined the owners Jo and Mark, first recruit Adrian (aka LuvDup), Steve, and Matt behind the counter – although Dave Booth had also worked there on Saturdays on occasion. Jo and Mark opened the shop after both having met years earlier working in Reckless Records in London. They bumped into each other in Manchester and had both noticed that there was nothing like Reckless in the city, so decided to give it a go. Opening in summer 1988, it’s fair to say that things went quite well. I joined to make it 6 staff in total in February 1991, and by the end of the year we would have at least 2 more members of staff, and I think we`d also moved to the larger shop next door, where it’s still located now.
Anyway, back to the record, and what a wonderful record it is. Some LPs become so universally lauded that when you go back to them, they can often disappoint. Blue Lines isn’t one of those. It’s generally now considered that follow up LP Protection is the band`s masterpiece – often cited as ‘the birth of trip hop’, etc. While I would never downplay how incredible an LP Protection undoubtably is – it’s slightly more sophisticated perhaps in terms of song writing, and composition – the band having moved away from the sample-based methods used on Blue Lines, and the title track might be the best song they ever recorded – it does also have a bit of a misstep with the less than wonderful cover version of Light My fire at the end. Blue lines, however, doesn’t put a foot wrong anywhere. From the excitement and energy of the opening bass riff – lifted from Billy Cobham’s Stratus – on Safe From Harm, to the soothing whale song over the outro of Hymn From The Big Wheel, it’s completely perfect. And as for inventing trip-hop, well I think Massive Attack already did that on the first single from this back in 1990. If Daydreaming isn’t trip-hop then I don’t really know what is. It just took the world a few years to come up with the name – and actually, it was being used to describe the instrumental hip hop of DJ Shadow before the name was attached to Massive Attack’s music – although Wally Badarou might have something to say about this. The whole LP is full of so many ideas, and although there are influences from reggae, dub, lovers rock, soul, funk, jazz, hip hop, the album isn’t actually any of these things; it’s something new entirely, and you don’t often get to say that about music and mean it.
I got my copy the week of release if I remember rightly. Several copies turned up in one of Jo’s “London trips”. It’s one of the limited-edition versions which comes in a custom 12” vinyl mailer style outer sleeve. I think they did a reissue of it in this style a few years ago, but with a notable difference. When originally released in 1991, the UK was involved in what’s now known as ‘the 1st Gulf War’. How sad that we have to add “the 1st’. Anyway, in a case of complete insanity that really is hard to believe now, the BBC had stated that they thought the name Massive Attack would upset people during this time of war, so the band were forced to drop the word ‘Attack’ from their name if they wanted any airplay. This fate was also inflicted upon the Unfinished Sympathy single, but apparently everything was alright again by the time Safe From Harm was released.
How strange to think of how different Manchester was back then. Vinyl Exchange was ahead of what is now the full-scale regeneration / gentrification of the Northern Quarter. The only place for an after-work pint was Dry Bar. Even Night & Day didn’t open until later in the year and was originally a chippy! On the opposite side of Oldham Street, where now we have luxury flats above nice clothes and record shops, was a really tacky cheap department store called What Every Woman Wants. Eastern Bloc had just moved out of Affleck’s Arcade – on the ground floor of Affleck’s Palace – to the site on Oldham Street it’s probably best known for. And I was just starting my first proper job, in one of the most exciting record shops in the country, in one of the most exciting cities, at one of the most exciting times. Still commuting in from my Mum`s in Warrington mind, with this LP sound tracking many of those journeys.
After Massive Attack I felt like listening to this …
Roy Budd – The Marseille Contract OST – Beatball Records 2021
Originally recorded in 1974 to accompany the crime thriller starring Michael Caine, James Mason & Anthony Quinn, this completely wonderful score – from one of my favourite soundtrack composers – remained unissued for several decades until a CD only release in 1999. It wasn’t until now that it’s been made available on vinyl for the first time. Unfortunately, it’s quite expensive, but worth shopping around for, as I managed to save myself quite a bit. That sadi, it’s worth every penny. The Korean label Beatball Records have done a lovely job of pressing it on vinyl. I got the blue vinyl version, which is 180-gram, and sounds immense. The record come in a heavyweight tip-on gatefold sleeve with a beautiful glossy finish and great artwork. There’s an obi strip, and a beautiful and highly detailed gatefold insert with excellent detail about the tracks and more beautiful artwork.
What lead me here after listening to Blue Lines you ask? Well, amongst a superb score, the totally standout track on the LP is a number called Jazz It Up. It really is an immense, jazzy, funky, building beast of a track, and to be frank, it’s worth the price of the LP on its own. The track grooves around some deep, building string sections, which I saw someone recently claim were the inspiration behind Unfinished Sympathy. I could quite believe this but have found no reliable source online to back this up. No interview with the band where they say they took inspiration from it, etc. And indeed, the strings on Unfinished Sympathy are played and not sampled. In fact, it would be quite difficult to have been inspired by this track, as it appears in the movie only fleetingly, and wasn’t available until almost a decade after Blue Lines was recorded. Jazz It Up sounds even more like the inspiration, indeed actual sample behind Rob D’s track Clubbed To Death, released on Mo`Wax in the mid `90s. It’s almost note for note. It also reminds me a little of Faze Actions wonderful debut on Nuphonic Records, In The Trees, but I know it wasn’t the track they sampled. Similar chord progression and feel though. Anyway, I suppose this is actually a plea for information. Does anyone know if the track Jazz It Up was indeed in some way the inspiration behind Unfinished Sympathy? Help a brother out…
Props to Jolyon Green & Jason Boardman for this recommendation…
Amancio D’Silva – Konkan Dance – Roundtable 2021
Jolyon posted this on Instagram a while back, and after reading his description I was glad I checked it out. This is completely mind-blowing music, originally recorded by Indian born, but British based jazz guitarist D’Silva in 1972, but unreleased on vinyl – save for some bootlegs – until now. There are just 4 tracks, but what an incredible sound. If you like jazz like Don Cherry’s Brown Rice, then you will probably like this. Spacey, weird, wearing its Indian heritage proudly for all to hear. These tracks could quite easily have been recorded today in Hackney by a bunch of cool young jazzers. If a track had appeared on the We Out Here comp from a few years back, no one would have guessed the track was almost 50 years old. My personal favourite is A Song For Francesca, which sounds like it would have been right at home in one of Jose Padilla’s sunset sets at the Café Del Mar. Just gorgeous.
I’ll be trying to pick up more from Amancio when I can find it. There isn’t a lot available, and it’s hard to get hold of. Thanks to Roundtable for doing such a lovely job on the reissue – a lovely 180 gram pressing which sounds great, and a gorgeous old ‘flip-back’ style sleeve. Sadly, Amancio died in Brighton in 1996 aged just 60, having only recorded a handful of records. Thanks to Jason for the heads up as to where to buy a copy.
A totally brilliant and essential compilation …
Dread Meets Punk Rockers Uptown selected by Don Letts – Heavenly Records 2001
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m in no way an expert when it comes to reggae or dub music. Working in a record shop and meeting people who really are, knocks any ideas you might have about that into touch. I know a bit, and one of the perks of having worked with people who do, is that you get turned onto some great music you might not have otherwise. However, the beauty of a compilation like this, is that you don’t have to be one of those highly skilled aficionados who get to work as counter jockeys in your local record emporium. Some clever chap puts together an instant one-stop killer collection, all on one – or in this case 2 – pieces of vinyl. That chap is Don Letts, a London renaissance man.
This record isn’t just a brilliant collection of dub and roots reggae, it’s also a fantastic insight into why pop music in the UK was so fucking brilliant in that period of 1978-1984, when punk had fizzled out and a hundred new forms of pop music burst into life to forge ahead. It’s the reason there was a huge explosion of 2-Tone and ska, and bands like Madness, The Specials, The Selector, etc. It’s obviously the reason The Clash and P.I.L. produced the kind of music that they did, as well as a whole slew of post-punk bands like Magazine, Gang Of Four, The Pop Group, Wire, ACR, The Fall, Orange Juice and many more, but it’s also the reason we got Culture Club! It’s what’s behind the bass-lines in tracks like Duran Duran`s Girls On Film. It’s behind the new pop of Scritti Politti, Haircut 100 and ABC. Of course, Don Letts himself would go on to shape the pop music landscape after this golden age as a member of Big Audio Dynamite, with Mick Jones from The Clash. More on that another time.
While we’re listening to some reggae …
The Congos – Heart Of The Congos – Go Feet Records 1980 / Blood & Fire 1996
This is one of my favourite reggae LPs. Possibly in the top 2 alongside Max Romeo`s War Ina Babylon. I’d never heard of Heart Of The Congos when I started working at Vinyl Exchange in February 1991, but I remember very clearly when that moment occurred. It was my first week working in the shop – so lots of learning the ropes- when in walks Hacienda resident, Mike Pickering, come to sell his promos. I hadn’t yet realised the lifecycle of records, and that virtually every DJ in Manchester would be coming at some point in to do the same thing. I was bit starstruck I have to admit. He came in, said hi to Jo the owner, and Jo introduced him to me, while he and Adrian divided up the stuff Mike had brought in, to offer him a price. Jo continued chatting away to Mike while going through his pile of promos, and then said “Oh, I bagged a copy of The Congos LP you wanted, are you still after a copy?”. Mike was indeed, and they put it on to check the condition, letting the first few tracks play while they finished off buying Mike’s records. Needless to say, once you’d heard those first few tracks, you’d be quite smitten with this record, but at the time it was indeed long out of print and highly sought after, so it would be several years before I finally got a copy – the lovely Blood & Fire reissue in 1996, which was so lovely in fact, that I picked it up on vinyl – with 2 bonus tracks – and then on CD – with lots of bonus tracks. Some years later I managed to find a reasonably priced original pressing as well, as I’m still a bit sad like that – though less so now. It’s a beautiful album. You should all own a copy. I have 3. Mike didn’t come in that many more times as it happens. He decided instead to become a massive pop star, and M-People were just starting to take off.
And while we’re listening to The Congos LP… we can’t not play this!
The Congos – Congo Man (Carl Craig Edits) – Honest Jon’s Records 2003
There’s not a lot to say here. This is exactly what it says on the tin. The most abstract, spacey track from the stunning Heart Of The Congos LP, given some beautiful, subtle edits from Detroit techno grandmaster Carl Craig. I’ve no idea how and why these came into being, but they are absolutely wonderful, and I’m so glad they did. This was a UK release from almost 2 decades ago now, which has had some serious hammering in my DJ sets over those years.