Monday, 1 October 2007

FUNKY MONKEY: Peaceman


The musical factor which tends to make me most homesick for 1967 is that of the gargantuan, opulently compressed orchestra. There’s been a lot of reminiscing on radio of late with the 40th anniversaries of Radios 1 and 2 and the concurrent demise of pirate radio, but it’s the hugeness, the cavernous echoes, which speak to me most dearly – think of George Martin’s original “Theme One” (described by a veteran BBC producer at the time, and not altogether disapprovingly, as “William Walton gone mad”) or David Sinclair Whitaker’s 16 rpm reworking of “The Last Time” (later the foundation of “Bitter Sweet Symphony”) or Mark Wirtz’s piccolo trumpets, harpsichords and Home Service strings on “Excerpt From A Teenage Opera.” And that’s without mentioning Wally Stott and Peter Knight’s work on the first Scott Walker album, let alone “A Day In The Life.” Of their time, yet simultaneously behind and ahead of it, this music still speaks to me of promises – some fulfilled, others trampled over in the progress of time.

“Peaceman” inspires similar feelings in me; if Radio Caroline had still been a going concern in 1998/9, I could well imagine their using this as a station ID, or an anthem. Funky Monkey – which seems essentially to have been producer and sometime Saint Etienne collaborator Gerard Johnson - were one of a thousand Big Beat hopefuls of the period; their records were diverting (extra chutzpah points for including the original, undiluted Oliver Nelson Six Million Dollar Man theme on their debut, Come Together People Of Funk) if not especially radical, and apart from the unsatisfactory compilation Join Us In Tomorrow, with a considerably inferior six-minute mix of “Peaceman,” their work has vanished from the racks.

No, “Peaceman” must be heard in its original, slowly unfolding, ten-minute, ten-second version. It begins with a Bach prelude played on a string synth which is steadily engulfed by the sound of riots and police sirens; a police radio voiceover (“Big shanks, good shanks”?) is turned into the foundation of the track as the beats systematically make their entrance; first one rhythm, then a grittier overlay, followed by electric piano and bass. Comparisons with Primal Scream’s “Come Together” would not be farfetched, except “Peaceman” is faster and slightly brighter.

An intriguing harmonic sequence is developed by the electric piano (using the initially cited Bach melodic sequence as a springboard) and the bass over the now danceable rhythm, until, at 4:45, the sunrise of synthesised strings, playing a gorgeously painful major/minor melody, casts its yellow shadow over the proceedings. A rhythm breakdown follows until the melody re-enters, reinforced, at 6:47, followed at 7:22 by Denise Johnson’s voice (hence the Primal Scream connection) singing, or intoning, “Come together, people of funk.” I think of Number 6, freed and back in London, on the verge of tears as he surveys the Houses of Parliament and the South Bank, with “Peaceman”’s swelling melody in my ears and mind. Listening to it is like standing on top of Parliament Hill Fields as the clouds steadily begin to clear, the Highgate church spire behind me, the city ahead of me…it is lump in the throat time. Finally the music fades away to leave the electric pianist (billed on the credits as “Vegas Love”) improvising on the chord sequence (cf. Anne Dudley’s piano at the end of the album version of Art of Noise’s “Beat Box”) before drifting into another song altogether and then swiftly ending with a final flourish. A masterpiece which deserves salvation from wherever you can find it.