Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
Let’s get back to the records… with a wonderful little ’un from those Wonderfulsound folks…
Nev Cottee – Renunciate / The Ring (Instrumental) – Wonderfulsound Singles Club 2022
Well, what an absolute beauty to get back in the groove with! Part of the sheer joy of the WonderfulSound`s Singles Club, is that you’re never quite expecting them, then suddenly this truly ‘wonderful’ thing has arrived for you to listen to and love. The last release in this series was probably Balearic Wife and mine’s favourite so far – the incredible Steven Michael Pague`s Watch The Oceans Roll / Solarized double header was sublime folk-funk / proto-yacht-rock of the highest order. This 45, however, might actually topple that from the #1 slot in our hearts – at the moment it’s definite ‘yes’ from me, while Balearic Wife is sticking with Steve – just.
I’m a fan of Manchester troubadour Nev, through his previous singles on Aficionado Recordings, but I’m ashamed to say I haven’t really explored his catalogue much further than that. After hearing this track this is something I will be sure to remedy. Renunciate kicks things off like Scott Walker or Lee Hazlewood being accompanied by Ennio Morricone’s orchestra. It’s a gorgeous, languid, slow burning, epic of a song, during which Nev renounces some stuff he no longer needs in his life.
Over on the flip the Hazlewood influence is very much to the fore, on a beautiful instrumental (the vocal is on the forthcoming LP – Madrid), which wouldn’t be out of place with Lee and Nancy singing Summer Wine over the top. A beautiful, beautiful record. If you haven’t joined the Wonderfulsound Singles Club, now would be a good time.
A couple more wonderful little ‘un’s, and a big thanks to Dr. Rob …
Two absolutely stonkingly Balearic releases on revered Japanese label, Flower Records. Both beautiful little 7” singles which I was struggling to get hold of in the UK – slept on – sold out everywhere – label not shipping to the UK due to impending armageddon! Cue Dr. Rob to the rescue! He only just happens to be coming to the UK to visit his mum and brings me copies! Thanks matey!
Now to the records. Both cover versions, both look as gorgeous as they sound, and both deeply, madly Balearic! First to Cruisic, and a stunning cover version of 808 State’s 1989 Mancunian / Ibiza classic, Pacific State. On the A side they’ve come up with a modern Balearic classic, slowing the track down to 103 BPM, and while the bird calls and saxophone are very much to the fore, they add a squelching, synthy walking bassline, and play some lovely jazzy keys and guitar passes over the top. This version is simply stunning! On the flip we have the 4 Beat Club Version, where the slo-mo 4/4 beat is replaced by some rolling jazzy drumming. A lovely alternative.
Extra attention has to be drawn to the sleeve, which is frankly a masterpiece of reinterpretation, taking the original ZTT UK 12” artwork and giving it the Katsushika Hokusai – The Great Wave Of Kanagawa treatment. Wonderful concept and execution.
ONEGRAM also decide to try covering an electronic classic, this time it’s Kraftwerk and Trans Europe Express. The balls on these folks! On the DJ Koco Edit they slow the track down and give it a thumping hip-hop meets dancehall style skank, which gets jazzier and more freestyle as it evolves, with the main synth riff being played by a brass section. Brilliant. On the flip the Masanori Ikeda Remix is closer to the original in its electro beats and synth riff, with a nice bounce to it and mad free-jazz breakdown. And it’s on gorgeous orange vinyl. Wonderful!
Some music for very hot weather… As a combination of long COVID fatigue and brain fog teams up with the current heatwave to kick my ass good and proper, I’ve selected some music which will help to cool us all down …
Pet Shop Boys – Elysium – Parlophone 2012
Just shy of its 10th birthday – it was released in the UK on my 42nd birthday – this is a very beautiful record. Imagine the sweet smell of sea air, olive groves and sun-baked earth that instantly hits you when you arrive somewhere like a Greek Island, or Croatia, or Ibiza. Now imagine the sensation of gently wading out into the glistening, cool, clear Aegean / Adriatic / Mediterranean Sea. Listening to this LP is a bit like that really – so perfect for this weather.
I realise that after reading that back many of you may have A) no idea what I’m talking about, and B) might be thinking that the sunstroke / COVID brain fog really has done for me, so let’s try a more traditional approach.
The Pet Shop Boys` 11th studio LP was recorded in several locations in L.A. with producer Andrew Dawson, and the whole album has a warm, gentle sound, more akin to their 1990 masterpiece, Behaviour, than anything else they’ve recorded…and for me it’s right up there with Behaviour as one of their finest LPs. Apparently, they toyed with the idea of calling the album, Happy Sad, and that would have fitted the tracks perfectly. According to Neil Tennant, lyrically the album can be interpreted as “about being us at our stage in our life, doing what we do“, and many of the songs have that ‘happy / sad’ element to them lyrically and musically, with some lovely hints of melancholia and nostalgia creeping in, as well as some utterly uplifting and optimistic moments. Songs like Leaving, Invisible, Memory Of The Future and Requiem In Denim And Leopardskin are among the most beautiful and moving songs they’ve ever written, while others like Your Early Stuff, A Face Like That and Ego Music are amongst some of their most funny and sarcastic. Plus, look at how gorgeous and Balearic it is. It also has a bonus disc of beautiful instrumental versions.
Some more music for very hot weather… That rare thing when something managed to surpass your expectations…
Steve Mason & Dennis Bovell – Ghosts Outside – Domino Recordings 2011
I absolutely love Steve Mason’s work. I bought the Boys Outside LP on its Record Store Day release in 2010, after my mate Jeff O’Toole had sent me a link to Lost And Found – an incredibly Balearic slice of pop music and no mistake. I adored the entire album and played it to death, both at home and dropping many of the tracks into my DJ sets. It’s just fucking wonderful!
When I heard the rumours about a Dennis Bovell remix / dub version, I got very excited indeed. I have loads of records which have been turned into magic by the brilliance of Mr. Bovell, and for someone who is very much enamoured by that post-punk period in music when dub and reggae influences seemed to be seeping into all areas of pop and dance music, this sounded like a bloody good idea.
A promo CD turned up in Vinyl Exchange – it was during one of my many phases of ‘moonlighting’ back there after sort of ‘leaving’ in 2008 – prior to the release of the record, just in time for my first year playing at Electric Elephant Festival in Petrcane, Croatia. I played 4-hour lunchtime sets on both the Friday and Saturday and played tracks from the LP in both sets.
The album works even better than you hope it might, and I think I actually prefer this version of the LP to the original, although that is fairly interchangeable some days. The songs seem like they were originally conceived this way. It really is quite a startling transformation, with the rubbery bass-lines, cavernous reverb and echo elevating the songs to new heights. It sounds like the sort of record Andrew Weatherall might have produced, or played a lot, and he did provide some excellent, and sadly so far, unreleased remixes of the track, Boys Outside.
I completely adore this LP, and it’s still pretty reasonable on’t ‘cogs. Scottish Balearic pop-dub, whatever next!
It would have been Larry Levan’s 68th birthday today, so happy birthday Larry …
Gwen Guthrie – Padlock mini-LP (Special Mixes Larry Levan) – Garage Records / Island Records 1985
As both are sadly no longer with us, we’ll perhaps never know how Gwen felt about Larry Levan’s name appearing as the predominant artist on a mini-LP of her songs, but as they continued to work together afterwards, I’m guessing that they had a good laugh about it and remained friends.
There are so many incredible remixes in Larry Levan’s discography. It’s one of the aspects of his career that help to elevate him to greatness, the ability to transpose the originality, energy, and adventurous style of his DJ sets onto his remixes. With such a vast back catalogue it’s a maddening choice to pick one from the glittering array of releases on Salsoul, Westend, Prelude, or even his own tracks as part of The Peech Boys. But I’ve gone for this over all the others. A startling array of remixes, which came into being when Larry was asked to remix the track, It Should Have Been You, from Gwen’s debut LP. Levan was a fan of her solo work with the legendary Compass Point Allstars, and several of her records were already big tracks at the Paradise Garage – which, coupled with her regular electrifying performances there – led to her being dubbed ‘The First Lady of the Paradise Garage’. However, Larry went a little ‘beyond his brief’ shall we say, getting hold of the masters of her newly recorded album, Portrait, as well and proceeded to spend eons of incredibly expensive studio time working on special versions of some key tracks.
When Island Records received the bill for the studio time, they were livid, and as a result the tapes lay on the shelf for a full 2 years. Only Larry had these versions, and over that time he turned those mixes into anthems at The Garage – the only place you could hear them – playing them on reel-to-reel. Although a couple of Levan’s mixes were released on singles and as B-sides, by 1985 demand for these versions amongst the New York underground alone meant that they were finally released, the record becoming an instant club / cult classic.
It’s not like these weren’t great tracks already, with Gwen Guthrie’s wonderful voice perfectly recorded and accompanied at Compass Point in Nassau by the full complement of all-stars – Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Wally Badarou, Darryl Thompson, and Steven Stanley – but somehow Levan manages to elevate these tracks to another level. From the tiny accapella moments to the glistening slo-mo electronic dub of Seventh Heaven, to the propulsive garage grooves of Hopscotch and Peanut Butter, to the gorgeous sun-drenched soul of Getting Hot, there simply isn’t an imperfect note or beat on this wonderful 34 minutes of music.
This used to be one of those records which you’d accidentally find very cheap in the reggae section in second-hand record shops due to Sly & Robbie’s names on the cover. I got my first copy – a UK pressing – from notorious Manchester record hound Keith Richards – no, not THAT Keith Richards, the other one! I have since very luckily upgraded to what was a sealed US original pressing on a visit to see my dad in DC in the late 1990s. I also bought a CD version for Balearic Wife, as she loves this LP almost as much as I do.
I found this flyer in my copy of Dancer From the Dance by Andrew Holleran. I’ve no idea how I came to have it, as I wasn’t lucky enough to attend the party. Happy birthday Larry, and thank you for the music, and for kind of redefining what DJing could / can be…
There`s a great interview in The Guardian today with this incredible musician and human being…
Gilberto Gil – Nightingale – Elektra / Asylum Records 1979
From trailblazing musical innovator of the Tropicalia genre, to political exile in London at the hands of Brazil’s military junta, with fellow musician Caetano Veloso, to running for public office and becoming his countries Minister For Culture, Gilberto Gil has had quite an extraordinary and exceptional career. This incredible musician turned 80 a few weeks ago, so I’ve pulled out a few records to listen too in tribute. I’m going with this as my favourite today, but it’s a close thing, with some serious contenders. I’ve gone with this LP for the track, Maracatu Atomico, an absolute Balearic floor-filler and no mistake. Produced by Sergio Mendes, this is pure joy distilled into a piece of boogie / disco. I’ve played this track loads over the years, and it always puts smiles on the faces of the entire dancefloor. There was s nice remix from Greg Wilson & Derrick Kaye on a compilation a few years ago which I also played a lot. Sticking with the original today. Gorgeous.
Some more music for very hot weather… I was inspired to listen to this wonderful double header after a morning of Gilberto Gil records…
Begin – Here Comes The Sun / Help Me – Begin 06 2013
Now, I am a huge fan of the work of Begin, a.k.a. Back To Basics resident and Chemical Brothers tour DJ, James Holroyd, a.k.a. Boggy. This has nothing to do with the fact that we have been friends, and even colleagues – yes, he actually managed to hold down a job in Vinyl Exchange for a while folks – for about 30 years now. There is just no getting away from the reality that as well as being one of my favourite DJs, over the last 12 years he has consistently released some of the finest, most beautiful, Balearic Beats known to man. Boggy is also such a lovely chap, that he once did me a remix for free when I was pissing about trying to start a record label, for which I am eternally grateful.
This complete beauty was released just after Balearic Wife and I moved to Brighton, in the summer of 2013. The A-side is a gorgeous, slo-mo, laid back affair with some beautiful guitar playing and a lovely sample of the accapella from Superstars Of Rock`s Orange Sunshine, which just builds and builds in drama, and then is over far too soon.
It’s on the B-side that our favourite track lurks though. A beautiful vocal sample of Joyce’s Joya is layered over gentle, rolling percussion, gorgeous synth pads, what sounds like a muted trumpet, and then minimal string stabs and piano combine to build the track into a complete classic. It’s one of those tracks that Balearic Wife insists on putting straight back on as soon as it’s finished. Sometimes before it’s even finished!
If you don’t own the Begin back catalogue, get over to Bandcamp now and save yourself before it’s too late!
You can also check out the super silk screen prints of “Balearic Wife” over at @jo_lambert_print – personally I think they’d make damn fine record sleeves / disco bags.