Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
Some wonderful, and quite odd music …
Edward Williams – Life On Earth: Music From The 1979 BBC TV Series – Trunk Records 2009
I’ve been listening to this fabulous record a lot over the last few weeks. As a small child I was fascinated by all things ‘natural world’ and pretty much wanted to BE David Attenborough when I grew up. That was before the pop music obsession hit of course, and I decided I wanted to be Adam Ant instead, but I digress. The images that we saw in this TV series were completely mind-blowing, and were accompanied by this fantastic, otherworldly music. If you’re a fan of library music or soundtracks generally then this is a must. The tracks all have incredible titles like Coming Out Music – The Leaf Bug – The Spiny Leaf Insect Sheds Its Skin – Cocoon Spinners, and sound as weird and wonderful as they suggest.
Strangely, the soundtrack was never commercially available at the time, and it took that relentless digger Jonny Trunk and a big slice of detective work for it to finally see the light of day, thirty years after the program originally aired. The story of its unearthing is detailed on the rear sleeve, and is one of the greatest tales of record digging archaeology I’ve ever heard of, so I’ll give you the edited highlights here:
A friend of Mr Trunk mentioned to him that he’d recently found a couple of records that were really interesting, one of which was this, but that there were no real details save for the titles and the composer. A few weeks later someone else posted a photo of the record on a website with the comment “… Jonny Trunk would approve.” After drawing a blank with the BBC, who knew nothing about the album, the strangeness continued, when a friend contacted him a few months later about selling his 500 strong library collection, and in amongst the records was a copy of Life On Earth. Being blown away by the record Johnny managed to track down the composer, Edward Williams, to his home in Bristol, where he explained that he had privately pressed up 100 copies to give to the members of the orchestra.
After licensing the music from the BBC there was the problem of creating some artwork. After getting no response from the BBC he found a copy of the Life On Earth book in a second-hand shop and realised that the photo credits were attributed to David Attenborough and John Sparks, and not the BBC. This meant trying to get in touch with the legendary Sir David, which eventually led to a phone call from him, where he explained that he had the idea of chamber music for the series and thought that Edwards’ music was “jolly good’. He also gave permission for his famous photo of the tree frog to be used as the LP artwork, so finally the music would be available to the public for the first time.
I got this LP on Christmas day 2009. My wife very generously went into Piccadilly Records and bought my ‘stash bag’ as one of my Christmas presents. Balearic Wife rarely buys me records as presents, as apparently, I “buy enough bloody records”, but at the time I had left Vinyl Exchange the previous year and had only been working part time, so the record buying had slowed from a flood to a dribble. I can’t now recall what other records were in the bag, but I remember playing this several times on Christmas day.
A huge thank you to Jolyon Green for posting about this LP on his Instagram account, as I had totally missed it…
This is certainly my favourite compilation LP of the past year, and possibly my favourite release of the year full stop, even though it’s only recently arrived. The label, Re:Warm, first came to my attention in summer 2020 when my friend Andy Singh gave me a copy of the debut release, a lovely little 7”. I liked it so much I bought the next four releases on the label, but then my attention must have wandered, as I’ve missed a few, including this.
This collection pulls off that really hard trick, that most great compilations aspire to, but many don’t quite achieve, in that it works just like a live DJ set. The closest comparison would be to my dear friend Richard Moonboots wonderful Moments In Time comp from a few years ago on Music For Dreams.
Compiled during lockdown by label co-founder, Ali Tillett, the LP comprises of tracks made exclusively for the compilation and are linked to specific habitats in the local area in Dorset such as Heathland / Moorland, Beach /Cliffs, Harbour /Estuary and Forest / Woodland. Furthermore, they’re interspersed with some wonderful field recordings such as the sound of the sea and other environmental sounds, as well as local wildlife.
The music is stunning, with Coyote’s The Fade, Paqua’s Esconido (Instrumental), Bobby Lee & Mia Doi Todd’s Walking With Tree’s, Turtle’s Heathland Haze and Fug’s From Little Seeds We Grow – oh my word this track is gorgeous, like something Kate Bush might have recorded – just some of the many highlights.
To top it all off it looks bloody great as well – as do all the records I have on this label actually. Housed in a stunning gatefold sleeve with a beautiful map-like artwork from formerly local artist Gareth Fuller. Be kind to yourself and buy a copy.
A story about the mad people you get to work with in record shops …
69 – 4 Jazz Funk Classics – Planet E 1991
I’d be lying if I said I bought this when it came out. In late 1991 I was mostly listening to Italian records with bad rapping and samples of pop records in them, or early UK progressive house records, or both, but not a lot of Detroit techno. Strange really, as I had always loved the stuff, particularly the first wave, but that’s just musically where I was at that point. Happily, I quickly rectified this terrible wrong under the influence of people like Rob Bright and Pete Robinson, and Huggy and James “Boggy” Holroyd.
This is one of my favourite Carl Craig records. Opener Ladies & Gentlemen still blows my mind, with its brilliant use of the Curtis Mayfield sample, funky as hell break beats and percussion patterns, and that insistent throbbing bassline. A total killer. I also love If Mojo Was A.M. and My Machines / Extraterrestrial Raggabeats, although I always found Frequency Finale a bit to heavy duty for my delicate Balearic tastes, despite its clever sampling of Visage’s Frequency 7.
But anyway, enough about me. I want to tell you a story about one of the wonderful, and completely bonkers people I used to work with in Vinyl Exchange, Mr Adrian, or Ade Brooks. Ade was as mad as a bag of cats, and completely lovely, despite being a devoted Salford red and a complete Volkswagen Golf nut (all his mates were as well – when they all turned up to play footy it was like the Luftwaffe arriving). He was more widely known as “Ginger Adey” or “Mad Adey”, and occasionally ‘Techno Adey”, due to his utter obsession with Carl Craig. When Carl played at Bugged Out in Sankey’s, Adey was front and centre, dancing the entire night. At the end of the evening Boggy and Rob got him into the DJ booth to meet his idol. Soaked through with sweat, eyeballs rotating around in his head completely independently of each other, and chewing his face off, Ade managed to persuade Mr. Craig that it was a Mancunian tradition that at the end of the night you should swap shirts, like at the end of international football matches. So persuasive were Adey’s skills that he exchanged his own sweat soaked – and I mean wringing wet – t-shirt, with Carls nice dark blue with yellow print ‘69’ number. Ade wore that t-shirt a lot! I haven’t seen him in absolutely ages, maybe ten years. He left Vinyl Exchange and set up his own van hire business. I do hope he’s happy and well.
Another 12” from the shelves…
Liquid Liquid – Liquid Liquid EP – 99 Records 1981
Not as famous as ‘the one Grandmaster Flash sampled’, or the one those ace DJs in Glasgow named their party after, but this debut E.P. from Sal Principato and co. is still very special, and it was the first record on 99 Records that I owned.
Back in ‘91 we had all picked up copies of that bootleg of the Optimo /Cavern E.P. from Oscar in Trax Records on Greek Street, in London’s Soho. Oscar had become friends with pretty much everyone in Manchester’s little Balearic tribe, particularly Moonboots, and we bonded over music, football and pizza. Trax was the ‘go-to’ record shop for all things Balearic or Italo back then. Want a copy of Funk Express, or Blackout, or Problems D’Amour? Oscar was your man!
Anyway, Oscar may have been happy to sell bootlegs over the counter, but he certainly didn’t want them in his collection, and he was a bit obsessed with getting everything on 99 Records. Problem was, back then in the dark ages before the internet and Discogs.com, not many people were really sure what was actually on the label. We knew about Cavern, obviously, and the ESG records, but what else?
Then one day I was on my lunch break and was browsing through some of the second-hand record stalls in Manchester’s old Corn Exchange, when I came across this for £1. The Corn exchange was full of great independent traders selling books and records and clothes until it was given an unwanted makeover by an IRA bomb.
I rushed back to Vinyl Exchange and called him at Trax, but he already had this one so I kept it for myself. Which was quite fortuitous, as after I’d listened to it, I’d have been reluctant to pass it on. The record was killer. Five tracks of dark, dubby, sinuous, ‘liquid’ funk. The band themselves describe their music as ‘big beat’, and it is a riot of percussion and bass. Opener Groupmegroup is probably my favourite here, but the whole E.P. is incredible, with Bellhead later getting a remix from DJ Harvey on Mowax, and Rubbermiro, with its Middle Eastern and dub influences also a highlight.
Inside the sleeve was this cheap looking photocopied insert, which listed the label`s back catalogue, and some ‘forthcoming’ releases. Incredibly valuable to a novice digger like myself – this was about 6-7 years before that incredible Tuba Frenzy article was published, which is still regarded as the definitive piece on the 99 Records story.
The cover art on the record is also great. I always thought it would make a great T-shirt. Designed by band member Richard McGuire who went on to become an incredibly successful illustrator, comic book artist – I think they call them graphic novels nowadays – and children’s author. He once designed a Swatch Watch. Fellow record obsessive John McCready, in a quest to be more completist than any reasonably sane person, tracked down one of said Swatch watches and bought it. I don’t think he ever wore it though.
Another all-time favourite LP, and something of a lost Mancunian classic …
Yargo – Bodybeat – Bodybeat 1987
You know that line from Blade Runner where Eldon Tyrell says to Roy Batty “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned oh so brightly …”? Well, sadly you could apply that to Yargo, one of Manchester’s best kept secrets. Formed in Manchester in the mid 80s, they released their debut single in 1986, followed by this LP on their own label in 1987 to some critical acclaim, scoring a hit in the indie charts and getting them signed to London Records. Over the next few years, they would release a flurry of excellent singles and an equally wonderful second album, Communicate, before releasing a live set in 1991, again on their own label, and then splitting up! I cannot for the life of me understand why this band didn’t go on to be massively successful, but there you go. “It’s a shit business”.
I`d heard good things about them and was lucky enough to see them live in either late 1987 or early 1988. They played the indie night at Legends in my then hometown of Warrington twice during this period, and they were quite simply phenomenal live, especially in comparison to the usual jangly rock fare that played. I didn’t pick up the album until October 1988 though. I had just moved to Brighton to go to art college, and it was one of the first records I bought with my first grant cheque in one of the second-hand shops on Trafalgar Street. It’s a beautiful, sparse, and quite jazz-influenced set of songs, with vocalist Basil Clarke`s gorgeous vocals sailing across the grooves like some haunting, muted trumpet rather than a human voice. The album track Help was remixed by Arthur Baker and was quite a big crossover club hit in ’88, being played everywhere from indie nights to acid house clubs. In the early `90s I was lucky enough to become friendly with bassist Paddy Steer, as after the band split, he joined Justin Robertson’s Lionrock touring band. He continues to make music as Homelife, Toolshed – with 808 State’s Graham Massey – and solo.
I mentioned my old and dear friend Oscar “From Trax”, and he has lots of amazing tales, but here’s a tale of my own that I owe to Oscar … Brace yourselves, this is going to go on a bit …
Chez Damier – Can You Feel It (M.K. Dub) – KMS 1992
September the 6th, 1992 was one of those wonderful days which has always stuck in the memory for lots of different reasons, and this wonderful record is always the one that makes it all flood back in an instant.
It was the day before my 22nd birthday, and I’d ended up in London. Not sure if I had a gig, or if I’d just come down to visit my dad and the family, but on Sunday, Oscar was taking me out for my birthday, and really, if I could replay any of my birthdays over and over, I think it would be this one.
We rendezvoused at Trax on Greek Street. It was a glorious sunny late summer / early autumn day, and we were going to the pub near the shop – The Pillars Of Hercules – to watch the first ever live broadcast of Channel 4`s Football Italia. We popped into Trax first, and Oscar introduced me to a brand new type of refreshment as a birthday treat – I was so innocent once. Then the pub.
The Pillars Of Hercules was one of those classic old Soho boozers which are pretty much gone now. Once frequented by Nick Drake, and many figures from the London literary scene, including Martin Amis, Ian Hamilton, and Ian McEwan. Clive James named his second book of literary criticism At the Pillars of Hercules. It was full of wonderful old, mirrored signs and dark varnished wood, with the then obligatory fruit machine. We topped up on pints of lager while watching the match…and what a match! Football Italia became quite well known for dour, organised, defensive Italian “Catenaccio” style football, but this opening game saw Sampdoria draw 3-3 with Paul Gascoigne’s Lazio side in an absolutely brilliant game. It was the greatest league on earth back then.
After the game we headed back to Trax for a ‘top up’, and who should we bump into outside but DJ Harvey and Heidi in full ‘Sunday afternoon family with pushchair mode’. I’d been a regular at the Tonka nights at The Zap Club in Brighton, so was a big fan of Harvey, but had never met him before. Then something a bit weird happened. A young chap came up to talk to us. He had just injected a load of speed, and was flying at several thousand miles an hour, with blood running down his arm from where he’d stuck the syringe. I remember being struck with how nice they were to the guy, offering him some tissues and trying to calm him down: really empathising with him. Once the speeding young man had wandered off Harvey asked Richard, who owned Trax, for some new Joey Negro remix, and Richard dug him out a promo. Then we all said goodbye.
Next stop was Colnbrook for Sunday afternoon`s Full Circle. A couple of Oscar`s friends had offered to drive us out there. Full Circle was by then the legendary Sunday afternoon rave in a pub in Berkshire run by Phil Perry. All manner of people, some of whom had very likely been at it non-stop since Friday and really should have been in bed, frequented the place, including most of London’s house / Balearic DJs. I spied various members of Boys Own, Flying and various other notable DJs / producers, with Oscar introducing me to lots of the nice ones. I even ran into a few old friends from my time in Brighton that afternoon. It was a proper gathering of the clans!
Chicago house pioneer DJ Pierre was playing the closing set that evening. Fuck me was he good! His sublime set culminated in this completely superb track, which he cut back and forth with Mayday’s The Dance. The 12 had been out a while, but I hadn’t bought a copy for whatever, now unfathomable reason. Marc Kinchen’s dub version sounded like one of the greatest house records ever made, in that pub, on a Sunday afternoon, when I was young, a day away from 22.
Full Circle ended, and we drove back to London. On the way a couple of us heard the call of nature. “I know where there’s a public toilet near here” piped up Oscar. At some large roundabout in a leafy part of West London he did indeed direct us to a very regal looking old public toilet. Only once inside did I realise that this was obviously a very popular ‘cottage’, full of men of all ages trying to relieve themselves in a quite different way to the one that I really needed to.
Back in the car and onwards to Soho again. A couple more pints in ‘The Pillars’ while we waited for The Milk Bar to open. I can’t recall who was playing at Nicky Holloway`s wonderful little club, just off Tottenham Court Road, but a quick Google tells me it was most likely Lisa Loud and Brandon Block`s FUBAR night. Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. Sounds quite apt, and very likely at that point. We stayed to the bitter end and then it was a night bus and a walk back to my dad’s place in Acton.
Back in Manchester and first thing I did is walk into Eastern Bloc and get Moonboot`s to sell me a copy of that Chez Damier record. As I said, it had been out a while, hence the pink label pressing instead of the silver one.
What would you give for a day like that again? Actually, the thought of doing all this now scares the shit out of me – give me a night in in front of the fire with a craft beer and a nice film any day! God I’m old!