Friday, 30 October 2009

TOP OF THE CLASS POPS


I saw this in the paper yesterday and although I’m glad that someone other than me is banging this particular drum it’s a shame that Lynsey had to lower the tone a little – and I use my metaphors VERY carefully, I’ll have you know – and turn the piece into yet another grumble about Class, fourteen years after Jarvis put that non-argument to bed (if only he could drag himself out of his own self-made bed and start making decent music again, eh?). The charts full of poshos and BRITites? Forgive me for missing something peculiarly obvious here but I look at the current chart and at number one by a whomping great margin (nearly 293K copies/downloads sold) is a working-class lass from Newcastle. Can’t say I think much of it, or about it – although the title track of 3 Words is an unexpected, winding wonder, even if I suspect the song was taken straight off the BEPs’ spare shelf and I might have preferred Emma Bunton or Mel C to sing it with Will.i.am – but Cowell or no Cowell (and actually it was Louis Walsh, but hey ho) this isn’t exactly the Bullingdon Club Hit Parade. Don’t see any reference to quadrangles, dormitories or gimlet eyes in Calvin or Tinchy’s story either. Ah, generalisations, don’t they make complex arguments so simple?

As I’ve said I don’t know how many times, the formula is simple; reinstate TOTP at a time when everyone will be guaranteed to watch it (and yes, I agree with Lynsey here quite fervently, if they have to shift an episode or seven of EastEnders to do so then fine – who’s watching it now anyway?) and refrain from all efforts to make the programme “cool” or “relevant”; the kids are lost to the online world and the only way you’ll get them back is by going for the huge X-Factor Event button and pushing it; something, as in days of olde, that families watched together and could argue over – call that music, boy or girl, &c. Have the show do precisely what it was intended to do in the first place; reflect what is selling, get the artists in and encourage them to make a show of it. And the presenters – don’t get call centre drones who are only allowed to wear Cool Black and talk in Method Acting whispers (i.e. you can’t hear them), get personalities, get Moyles, Westwood, anyone, to go on there and be gloriously daft and naff. Make it Family Light Entertainment and marvel at any subversion that sneaks through – isn’t that why we of a certain age all remember it so well anyway? Watching Later with J Holland is like attending school assembly. The populist alternative is needed. Otherwise Cowellism will keep dominating the charts because what’s there to compete with him?

But where I have to diverge pretty wildly from Lynsey is when she starts prattling on about most of today’s Top 40 being guff compared with the exciting charts of 20 years ago. Again, let me remind you of some inconvenient facts – and if you’re quick you can hear it online – but the charts of October 1989 were fucking terrible, Jive Bunny taking out a mortgage at number one, blandness everywhere; nobody with any sense took any notice of the charts then. These days things are going a wee bit downhill from the epic beauty of earlier 2009 – but again most of that is ascribable to the Cowellite effect – but if you asked me to choose between the Top 40 of now and that of 1989 then it’s a complete no-brainer, just as I would never swap today for 1978 again if you paid me. As usual, the writer is really lamenting being 34 and tied down by the shit of an accumulated life rather than being fourteen, carefree, all fields round here &c. And if one more person cites bleeding “Starman” – a hit three years before our Lynsey was born – then I’m going to have to go all Pigmeat Markham on their coccyx. Argue for TOTP’s reinstatement by all means, but quit pretending that things were better in anybody’s old day. Otherwise we get TOTP2 with Steve Wright and the same old clips you've seen a billion times before to keep Mr Compliance happy = graffitied aesthetic mausoleum.

Friday, 23 October 2009

ELTON DEAN'S NINESENSE: Happy Daze/Oh! For The Edge


I’ve said things about Ninesense before, and it’s more than nice to have their two Ogun LPs – or most of them, but I’ll get back to that in a moment – back on CD, not just to remind today’s F-Ire types of their illustrious predecessors but also to revise my own views towards their recorded output. Certainly until a few years ago I was slightly cagey about both Oh! For The Edge and Happy Daze in terms of their worth as records; were they really representative of the roaring, apocalyptic band I saw on stage at the Third Eye Centre around the time of punk, or was there a degree of holding back? The question was further shaken up by the arrival of the Live At The BBC CD containing the two sessions they recorded for Radio 3’s Jazz In Britain, one of which turned out to be their only recording with Mongezi Feza in the line-up, and both of which contained tunes from their previously published albums, but in a notably rougher and more vibrant form.

Conceptually there was no ambiguity about the group; they were a pretty direct crossover between Keith Tippett’s old sextet and the Brotherhood of Breath and their music reflected that, both danceable and troublesomely spiritual. Oh! For The Edge sees them in action, albeit reduced to Eightsense by the absence of second trombonist Radu Malfatti, before what sounds like a sadly sparse audience (you can count the handclaps) at the 100 Club in March 1976, and the band appears to expand in order to fill the room (hear the still astonishing “Forsoothe” for evidence of this). Happy Daze was recorded in the studio some 16 months later, fresh from being performed at the Bracknell Jazz Festival. As a “suite” it doesn’t really hold up – the ongoing curse of prove-yourself-to-us-jobsworths in terms of grants and commissions; if you’re wondering why sixties and seventies recorded British jazz is so befuddled by “suites” which never quite cohere as a whole it’s because it was practically the only way to get funding – and indeed (as the BBC disc confirmed) all of these tunes already existed, but as an album it works a lot better than I remember it, and Tippett’s work on the ballad “Sweet F.A.” in particular remains dazzlingly, limpidly and mischievously exceptional. And Dick Whitbread’s collage for Oh! For The Edge is still one of my favourite of all album covers.

The problem is that, on the CD, side two of Oh! For The Edge has been truncated; in order to fit both albums onto one CD, that side’s key performance of Feza’s “Friday Night Blues” – some 12½ minutes long on the original record – has been cut down to its final five minutes or so, i.e. Elton’s alto solo (discreetly faded in) and the final theme statement. The trouble is that this imbalances the album completely; Feza’s death was a major torpedo to the scene which Ogun celebrated and documented and the whole of side two was structured as a tribute to him, with the relaxed swing of “FNB” being bookended by Dean’s solemn “M.T.” and the final “Prayer For Jesus.” Furthermore, by editing the performance, we miss a wonderful solo by Harry Beckett – Feza’s replacement in the group, whose solo pays explicit tribute to him – and (shame!) one of the few recorded solos by Mark Charig on tenor horn. The length is essential to accommodate the stretch and release, following on from the cathartic roars of “Forsoothe,” and it is a dismal reflection on the stupid state of funding that economics have dictated that Ogun cut down the album in order to accommodate everything on one CD (rather than a 2CD reissue, which really should have happened). So I’m afraid for the full picture you’ll need to keep an eye out for the vinyl original, complete with whatever absurd price has been pasted on it.