Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
Happy birthday Arthur …
Dinosaur – Kiss Me Again – Sire Records 1978
Arthur Russell would have been 70 years old today had he lived. Sadly, he was one of many who didn’t make it, passing away in 1992, just shy of his 41st birthday due to AIDS related illness. In recent years Arthur’s name has become hugely respected around the world, and rightly so, but at the time of his death he was relatively unknown outside of a small band of serious music heads, from either the underground disco scene, or those participating in experimental / avant garde / classical music – the two worlds where Arthur had enjoyed some success. Although constantly recording, Arthur wasn’t great at finishing, and left a huge archive of unreleased work when he died. Thankfully some of this body of work is slowly being made available. As someone who feels that he belongs in at least one of the camps, I’m ashamed to say that when I discovered this record out in the wild, I hadn’t heard of its existence before.
It was spring 1999, and I was visiting my Dad in Washington D.C. for the first time. Since Dad was at work during the day, I was amusing myself by record shopping. There was an extensive list of ‘used record stores’ in a battered old visitors guide that my Dad had been given, and I worked my way through some of the most promising sounding ones – spending the days hoping on and off the metro. Sometimes this seemed like a better idea than it was, as I had no idea what some of the neighbourhoods I was visiting were like. Most were very pleasant – DC is a beautiful city in places – but other times … not so much. At one station I emerged from the metro onto a scene which I can only liken to the series of The Wire, and “Hamsterdam”! I’d been living in Manchester for the best part of a decade, but I wasn’t prepared for this. About I turned and got back on a train! Anyway, this Dinosaur 12 was found on a much more successful jaunt. I can’t recall the name of the shop now sadly, but it was located in a small promenade of fairly bland stores about 10 minutes’ walk from a metro station. Although small from outside, once inside I remember that the owners had actually knocked two units together to make quite a descent size shop. I came across Kiss Me Again in the Talking Heads section – amongst other goodies. It had a sticker on it saying, “David Byrne on guitar”, and indeed he is, although how the owners of the store knew this I’m not sure, as I scanned the label for information and there was no mention. I’d never heard of Dinosaur. I had records by Dinosaur L. Could it be the same person? And there it was. Arthur Russell. I put it in my pile. The names Nicky Siano and Jimmy Simpson I was already familiar with, so I was pretty sure that this was the same Arthur Russell, although at that time so little was known about him that I wasn’t yet aware of the Talking Heads connection. It was something like $5, so I figured it was worth a gamble. Dinosaur / Dinosaur L – gotta be the same guy, surely Obviously, it was! This was actually Arthur’s first ever record. It’s now one of my favourites of his – certainly top 5 for sure. I prefer the b-side ‘Version” mixed by Arthur, to the Jimmy Simpson mix, but as you probably know by now, I’m quite keen on obtaining as many versions as I can lay my hands on. The 6:50 edit is also a gem and is on another 12”, and the b-side of the UK 7”. It’s a gorgeous, epic building disco track, with a soaring lead vocal from Myriam Valle of Desmond Child And Rouge fame, and some wild & crazy playing from the excellent musicians assembled. As well as David Byrne there’s Wilbur Bascomb from Players Association on bass, and Mountain drummer – who was also the drummer on disco hits like Never Can Say Goodbye – Alan Schwartzberg.
I picked up quite a stack of records in this store. There was still ‘gold in them there hills’ in US shops back then, and I made out like a bandit. As I took my records up to the till to pay, I enquired politely if there might be any chance of a discount for cash / quantity of purchase. The jovial giant of a man behind the counter looked me up and down quizzically for a few moments. I looked then much like I do now – but younger obviously: long hair, beard, dungarees – a recurring Balearic Mike wardrobe staple, adidas trainers, t-shirt, hooded jacket. “You ain’t from the IRS, are you?” he asked, smiling. “If you’re from the IRS that’s the best god-damn disguise I’ve ever seen”! He gave me a generous discount.
More birthday wishes for Arthur Russell, who would have been 70 yesterday…
Loose Joints – Is It All Over My Face / Pop Your Funk – West End Records 1980
This is one of 2 records which acted as our introduction / gateway drug into the music of Arthur Russell for all us disco / house music kids. Considering how difficult Arthur found it to finish anything, and how little of his recorded work was released during his lifetime, it’s really quite astonishing that, along with Dinosaur L’s seminal Go Bang, he managed to release these 2 records which are now considered amongst the greatest and most important pre-house underground disco / dance tracks ever made. I think I’d be hard pressed to find anyone amongst my record collecting or DJing friends who wouldn’t include both these tracks in an all-time top 20. Not that Is It All Over My Face was an instant classic. In fact, it’s well documented that on it’s in initial ‘Male Vocal Version’ release, backed with the weird as fuck Pop Your Funk, it bemused both DJs and dancers alike – forcing Mel Cheren of West End Records to ask Larry Levan to remix the track in order to save it. Larry’s discovery and re-use of a female vocal, wiped from the original but reinstated on the second release created an underground classic for the clubs of New York and Chicago, and it went on to become one of West End`s biggest hits.
That seems strange to my ears. Perhaps over the years tastes have changed, because I certainly favour the version with Arthur singing. There are quite a few versions of this track available now. There’s also an interesting dub version on a compilation called Just A Groove, which is worth tracking down. The 12-minute version was originally released on the first The Loft box set on Nuphonic, but also there`s 12” with ‘Kon’s Duet Mix’ is from just a few years ago. The Kon mix is great, using bits from the multitrack which weren’t used in previous mixes, but my favourite version remains unreleased. It’s by big, lovely disco / boogie godfather, Sean P, and he very generously gave me a file a few years ago. Like Kon, it makes use of previously unused vocals from Arthur, and it properly goes off! No, I can’t share it with you.
As well as that lot, there’s a blue vinyl 12” of Pop Your Funk which was issued to promote the superb World Of Arthur Russell compilation which Dave Hill of Nuphonic put together for Soul Jazz. I’m eternally grateful to Dave for the mention he gave me in the sleeve notes. I’m also indebted to Dave in a roundabout way, for some of these records in my collection. The thing with working in a record shop is that most of the time there isn’t that interesting a back story to getting records. You go to work, open the doors, and the records literally come to you! It’s terribly boring – well, it’s not really – but it’s true. However, some of these really are terribly rare – the Pop Your Funk 7”! – and were bought from top record dealer and excellent bloke Nick The Record. How did Nick come to be in possession of multiple copies of some of Arthur Russell’s rarest and most sought after records you ask? Well, Dave Hill was hanging out in New York a lot while putting the Loft collections together with David Mancuso, and one of the people he was introduced to was Tom Lee, Arthur’s lover. Tom was instrumental in helping get the World Of Arthur Russell compilation together. While in discussions about the compilation Tom mentioned to Dave that he had boxes and boxes of unsold copies of Arthur’s old records in the apartment they`d shared, and did he know anyone who would be interested in buying them. Turns out he did, and so much wonderful music found its way to appreciative lovers of Arthur’s work.
My final selection celebrating the music of Arthur Russell, who would have been 70 years old on 21st May this year….
Arthur Russell – Let’s Go Swimming – Logarhythm / Rough Trade 1986
This was the record that really started my obsession with the work of Arthur Russell. I already owned several records by Arthur at this time, but Arthur had that habit of releasing records under a series of very interesting sounding pseudonyms. A habit he shares with my friend Ashley Beedle. I own lots of the hundreds of records that Ashley`s made, but are any of them filed under “B” for Beedle? No, they are not. Anyway, back to Arthur. It`s a Saturday afternoon in the early `90s in Birmingham, and I’m down for a gig that night. I’m with my friend Andrew Barton, and we’re record shopping / visiting Nathan Gregory Wilkins in the store he then worked in, Lee Fisher’s Pure Records. We’re shooting the breeze as they say, Nathan playing us some new releases and chatting about music. “Oh, I’ve got to play you this. My mate just brought me in a copy. You’ve heard of Arthur Russell yeah?” I admitted I had not. “He’s the guy behind Loose Joint’s, Dinosaur L, Lola’s Wax The Van.” I had no idea at that time that those 3 records, that I owned and adored, we’re all by the same person, this mysterious Arthur bloke! The record Nathan’s friend had just brought in was this, Let’s Go Swimming. At the time it sounded like one of the most insane dance records I’d ever heard. A wall of skittering, incessant drum patterns, which sounded like the machines had been left on ‘random’ setting, drenched in delay, reverb and echo, with mad freestyle synth playing, and a beautiful, ethereal vocal, which sounded like someone singing in the bath. I was hooked!
Released in 1986, the same year that house music was finally breaking in the UK, this couldn’t have sounded more alien if it tried. I love that someone believed in it enough to release it, but who they thought its audience was I have no idea. It still sounds like something from another world now, 35 years later. Let’s Go Swimming wasn’t impossible to find back then, as it got a UK release on Rough Trade, so I’ve found quite a few copies in the wild over the years. I upgraded to this US promo at some point though.
Nathan and I were able to reignite our conversation about Arthur Russell, and Paddington Bear, at the beach bar at Electric Elephant festival one evening a few years ago! Truly a genius. Thank you, Arthur!!!
After being drawn into Arthur Russell’s world of echo, this next one seemed appropriate …
One Dove – Morning Dove White – Boys Own Productions 1993
I have no idea if the members of One Dove were fans of Arthur Russell, but I’m sure they would have felt some affinity with much of his work, particularly his experiments with dub and echo. I’m pretty sure Andrew Weatherall must have too. This LP is a complete bloody masterpiece from start to finish. Weatherall was rightly lauded for his work producing Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, but for me this knocks spots off that album. As a complete producer’s vision for a band and an album this is pretty flawless. It sounds like Cocteau Twins, accompanied by The Compass Point Allstars, then given the dub remix treatment by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. It has a glorious, huge, cavernous sound, propelled along by fat, rubbery bass-lines and throbbing beats, while over the top flow Dot Allison’s beautiful, breathy, ethereal vocals, carried on beautiful piano and synth melodies. Beautiful, strange pop music.
The four singles are all included on the LP, kicking off with the instant classic Fallen, and closing with the incredible sequence of Transient Truth, Why Don’t You Take Me and White Love (Piano Reprise), but this is much more than a collection of singles. It really flows beautifully as an album and listening to it now for the first time in what seems like a long, long, time, I can’t understand why this isn’t held in greater esteem. Morning White Dove was released a few days before my 23rd birthday. I’ll be 51 this year, and I’m still just as moved by this wonderful record as I was then.
Some more 12”s from the shelves …
David Bowie – Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix By James Murphy For The DFA) – ISO Records / Columbia 2013
An absolutely incredible remix of an already wonderful track transforms this into a modern club – and dare I say Balearic? – classic. James Murphy is a safe pair of hands when it comes to something like this, but even then, I was more than pleasantly surprised with what he’s done here. The interesting handclap intro coalesces into a nice chugging, electro pulse of a beat, and the track begins to groove along nicely. A perfect ALFOS track. Then 5 minutes in it happens. That masterstroke. Who knows what made James Murphy decide to sample Ashes To Ashes? Who knows what Bowie himself thought when first hearing it? Fact is that the result is wonderful! The mix simply explodes into life, taking the dancefloor with it. I have particularly fond memories of playing this at Electric Elephant Festival in Tisno in the summer of 2014. My first set was Friday evening in the Beach Bar, warming up for Prosumer. I opened my set with this, to an empty dancefloor, save for a few people standing around chatting and drinking. By the time it got to the drop the dance-floor was full. The set that I played is one of my favourites – it’s on my Mixcloud page.
That Sunday our Down To The Sea And Back boat party was in doubt after huge storms had ravaged the coast the night before. I received a text from Chris Massey saying “Balearic / Dunkirk spirit – it’s on!” I recall the techs using hairdryers to get rainwater out of the speakers so we could set sail. I played this mid-set and the boat almost sank! Happy days.
Some more 12”s from the shelves … Actually, that’s not strictly true. This record has just arrived, so it will eventually be heading to the shelves, but right now it’s living next to my decks!
Roisin Murphy & Crooked Man – The First Narcissus / Jealous Groove – Bitter End Records 2021
Originally appearing on a charity cassette and super limited – 20 copies! – 10” single back in 2017, Ben Monk unearthed this for our old radio show on 1BTN. Roisin was kind enough to send us a high-quality file to play. It’s an epic, building, trance-like beast of a track. It reminds me a bit of early Orbital tunes, like Halcyon and Belfast. Roisin’s beautiful vocals drift in and out of the track, only really getting into the meat of the song towards the end. It has the usual bowel emptying bass from producer, Parrot. I’ve played this quite a bit over the past few years and was a bit sad when the version on the Roisin Machine LP wasn’t the same mix. I’m really glad it’s now on vinyl. This Bitter End label has some total monster club tracks on it, that are well worth checking. Sheffield Steel.