Saturday, January 07, 2012

Words of GSH

Theres an extract from Gil Scot Herons memoir [out Jan 16] gone up on The Independent. It's worth a read.

Godfather of rap's last words: Exclusive extract from Gil Scott-Heron’s posthumous memoir.

snip: "... In 1980, Stevie joined with the members of the Black Caucus in the United States Congress to speak out for the need to honour the day Dr King was born, to make his birthday a national holiday. The campaign began in earnest on Hallowe'en of 1980 in Houston, Texas, with Stevie's national tour supporting a new LP called Hotter than July, featuring the song "Happy Birthday", which advocated a holiday for Dr King. I arrived in Houston in the early afternoon to join the tour as the opening act. I was invited to do the first eight shows, covering two weeks, and I felt good about being there, about seeing Stevie and his crazy brother Calvin again.

I was tired already, sweaty and exhausted from a five-minute trudge uphill, learning as I trudged why this block-sized enclosure was called "the Summit". I had just found a stage entrance for a venue I had never played. The places I had played in Texas on prior trips could fit into this sprawling hothouse about 10 times and still leave room for the Rockets to play their games without me getting in their way. It was an impressive sight. Choreographed chaos on a Roman scale. But suddenly somebody called my name. Well, not exactly my name, but somebody's name for me, the name he always used, my astrological sign. So I knew who it was. It was somebody who shouldn't have seen me come in. Howzat?

The call for me rang out again, echoing around in the cavernous hall: "Air-rees!"

I scanned the upper reaches of the place, looking for Stevie Wonder.

And there he was, in a seat near the top row in the bowl-shaped theatre. He was leaning forward in my direction from the sound booth. Alone. There was no mistaking him. His corn rows were surrounded with a soft suede cover. Large, dark sunglasses hid most of the top half of his face, and a huge, joker's grin furnished the lower half. He had a wireless mike in his hand and, again with the grin, was saying, "Come on up here, Air-rees!"

I started for the stairs, still scanning. Now I could see there was an engineer-type person in the booth, but his back was turned to Stevie and I didn't believe I knew the man anyway. Or that he had identified me.

He hadn't. But since I hadn't figured it out yet and Stevie was having such a good time messing with my head...

"How you been, man," I said as I climbed. "If you saw me get outta that cab from the airport, you shoulda helped me pay for it."

"We felt your vibes, Air-rees," Stevie said, and he laughed out loud, shook his head, and held his hundred-watt smile.

I agreed to be on by 8.05 pm each night and to hit my last note no later than 9.05. That would give the humpers and stage muscle 25 to 30 minutes to change the sets for Stevie and [backing group] Wonderlove. Stevie's set would run the clock out, but at 11.30 or so he would call for back-up to do his last two numbers: "Master Blaster", the reggae-flavoured tune that included the line that was the title of his new LP, and "Happy Birthday", his tribute to Dr King.

The people producing the shows [were] worrying about us starting and stopping on time. I thought that was funny as hell, knowing that Bob Marley and the Wailers were coming in after two weeks. "Them brothers don't start rolling their show joints until they're 10 minutes late," I told [the stage manager]...."

Ring The Alarm playlist, BaseFM, Jan 7

Dr Alban - Hello Afrika -Fast blast club mix
Chinchillaz - Tiger
Liam Bailey - When will they learn
Clive Smith & Jackie Mittoo - Joyful life
Heptones - Sweet talking  -Richie Phoe dubplate mix
Cutty Ranks - Who say me done
Dub Secialists - Darker block
Tenor saw - Ring the alarm - hiphop mix
Kenny dope and Shaggy - Gunshot
Yellowman - Them a mad over me
Junior Murvin - Root train
Augustus Pablo - Dub organiser
Dub asylum - Skatta
Sly n Robbie vs D&D Allstars - Lowe1 mashup
Lee Scratch Perry - God smiled  -Moody boyz remix
Konk - Soka loka moki
SOS Band - SOS dit dit dit dash dash dash dit dit dit
Isaac Hayes - Zeke the freak  -Todd Terje edit
Diana Ross - Upside down - Original Chic mix
Raphael Saadiq - Heart attack
Harlem river drive - Idle hands
Lobo - Bambele
Bing ji ling - Hold tight - Colm K remix (free download here)
Joe Gibbs - Chapter two
Gregory Issacs - Give a hand
Brother culture - Warning dub

Friday, January 06, 2012

Peanutbutter Wolf vs Amoeba

New "What's In My Bag?" video with Peanutbutter Wolf from Stonesthrow. See what Peanut Butter Wolf found at Amoeba....

Interesting fact: PB Wolf had his hair cut just like his idol Terry Hall from the Specials when he was in high school. And his math teacher at school was the lead singer for... ah, watch the clip and find out.  And his Bob James/Nautilus story is cool too. One for the hiphop nerds.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Secret Life of Skank

The Secret Life of Skank was put together by Radio NZ's Nick Atkinson, and looks at the origins of the reggae skank. Well worth a listen.

From RNZ's site: "Aotearoa is reggae's second home with acts such as Katchafire, House of Shem, Fat Freddy's Drop and The Black Seeds going to the top of the charts at will. The genre is built around one simple rhythmic motif called the skank. Nick Atkinson spoke to a DJ, an academic and several musicians to find out how and why we skank."

I discovered recently that the word skank is censored on iTunes NZ. One of the new tunes off my latest Dub Asylum ep is called Jumping Jack Skank, which appeared on iTunes as Jumping Jack S***k. After some moves from my digital distributor to inform iTunes of the particular NZ context for this word (ie its not a widely insult, but a much loved musical form in Aotearoa), iTunes have removed it from their list of banned words. Hoorah!

Welcome to Portishead... live NYC

By Peter McLennan, originally published in Lava magazine, 1999.

It's 10.20pm on a Wednesday night, and my phone rings. It's the operator at Polydor UK, calling up to connect me for a Portishead interview. Ah, the joys of modern telecommunications.

Portishead member Geoff Barrow comes on the phone, much to my surprise. I was told I'd be talking to guitarist Adrian Utley, but Geoff tells me Adrian is a bit knackered, having just done 40 interviews in 2 days, and Geoff has kindly stepped in to give him a break. What a nice chap, I like him already. So, down to business.

PNYC is the new release from Portishead, a collection of live recordings based around their televised concert recorded in July last year at the Roseland Ballroom in New York, which was screened here a while back. The cd however has only just seen the light of day, after their second, self-titled album and an arduous 10 month tour round the planet. Marketing ploy, anyone?

Geoff explains that they've been busy."We finished touring about a month ago. The response we had was pretty much complete and utter total madness. It was shocking really. We started playing to about two, three thousand, and then it started creeping up in Europe to like eight thousand, and then we came down to Australia and New Zealand, and that was another complete buzz, and then the States, and every show was sold out except for one, in Mertle Beach in South Carolina, which was a House Of Blues place, and we were told they were going into their college holiday season, and they're was actually no one there but old people, in the town! And then we did the festivals over the summer, in Europe, and in some of those we played like to fifty thousand people.

L: With festivals, do you get to see any of the other bands?
GB: Well, what I liked to do, is just getting in there early. Other people would just chill out at the hotel, and I'd usually go down with the crew and wander around the festival. To be quite honest, the European festival circuit was really drab this year. There was some really good bands like Pulp, Beastie Boys, but the rest of the stuff I thought, was really substandard, except for Asian Dub Foundation, they were really good.

L: Anyway, back to PNYC

GB: Well, with Roselands, we've been on tour, and we haven't been able to work on it at all, or edit it, or get it into some kind of shape. When you saw it on tv, it was mixed in two or three days just after we did it. There's two tracks on PNYC from the tour as well. When we got back from tour we went into the studio, just to have a listen to it, and make it sound a bit better, not to do stupid things to it, no nasty overdubbing and stuff. Because we have so much control over everything that we do, in the sense of production, artwork, videos, whatever, because of that, if we're out on tour, we can't concentrate on anything else. And we don't like things going out without us being involved in it. So we wanted to wait til now and get it right."

The concert represented not just the standard everyday Portishead line-up (if there is such a thing), but a show with all the bells and trimmings, including a horn section and an orchestra comprising members of New York's Philharmonic. Nervous then, were we Geoff?

"We were really, really nervous, about the whole thing. There wasn't an awful lot of rehearsal time with the orchestra, but we were really happy with the way it came out. It was a strange one, Roselands, cause it was at the start of the tour, and the band has developed so much since then. At the same time, because of the strings and everything else, it makes it a separate entity again, know what I mean?

A lot of people have said to us, when can I get hold of something of you live? So it's not like this massive surge of us saying 'you have to go and buy this, this is like the third Portishead record', this is just what we've done over the last couple of years, and a lot of people liked Roselands and wanted to buy it.

L: With the whole scale of the thing, did you reach a point where you thought 'Oh god, it's too much'?

GB Yeah absolutely, just before we went on! At the time I was doing press as well, about ten interviews a day, so we were rehearsing, Ade (Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley) was trying to get all the arrangements sorted, it was just like really, really full on. But it seemed to work, so I can't complain about it now! It was a huge risk, financially, all the way through. Even though the record company paid for it, you got to pay that money back somehow.

L: Was it hard taking those songs straight out of the studio, and then expanding them, and still retain some control over it?

GB Oh yeah, definitely. We worked with a brilliant arranger. When we were mixing the second record, Ade was downstairs roughly writing out the arrangements for the strings. It was difficult to do, because we had set ourselves a really difficult task. We were playing tunes we'd never played to an audience before, let alone played live before, and prior to that, we hadn't played for two and a half years. It wasn't going to be a rock'n'roll show, it was going to be us in the middle of the Ballroom with the lights fully on.

So you can't hide behind anything, it's all bang in front of you. With Roselands, for us it was like, instead of just coming out with the new record and talking about it, we wanted to just play it, but in a situation where people could see what we did, because we're not really like this celebrity band, y'know what I mean. We haven't got anything particularly interesting to say about our lives. So we thought right, let's just show people what we do.

L: The visual style of the tv concert is very striking. Where did that come from?

GB: It's based on an Miles Davis and Gil Evans tv show from the mid sixties. We didn't want it like a rock'n'roll show where it was really fast moving, cutting all the time. We wanted to have a pace about it, and to suit our music. we just thought right, lets just let the camera really work it, and suit whatever track it is. Cause most things that you see on tv, even if it's like a slow performance, if you go into a tv show and you've got a tv crew, they're always cutting around it like mad, they're always trying to find those bits so they can go 'drums to vocal, drums to vocal, drums to guitar', y'know what I mean? Really, it wasn't about that. It was setting up a mood and watching what we did, if anyone was interested.

L: What have you been listening to lately?

GB: A lot of hip hop. But it could just be like, anything that's interesting. There's a band called Arab Strap, that are on the same label as us, a Scottish band. It's like the real thing, a band that sings about their situation, which is really good. We're still into Radiohead, Nirvana, Foo Fighters. I'm not really a dance music fan, know what I mean? I don't go out to clubs and do loads of pills. It's not that I don't like it, I just don't appreciate it. It doesn't do anything for me when I listen to it straight.

L: So, what's next for you, now the touring's all finished?

GB: Well, when you've been out on the road for about a year, it's just such an odd feeling, coming back to normal life. Touring and music can bring up so many problems in your life, know what I mean? Now I've just got to sort my life out, without trying to drink too much. Cause that's the terrible one you slip into on tour.

At the moment I'm doing as little as possible. I'm just having time off, sorting out my house. It's the first break we've had really, we've been working non stop since 93, really. So, I'm done for a bit. I've just been trying to put it at the back of my mind, and doing things like hoovering. Back to reality, basically".

And with that splendid picture of domestic bliss, we bid farewell to Geoff.

PNYC (the video, cd and double vinyl) is in the shops now, and the band will shortly have a special limited edition cd-rom available through their website,

Monday, January 02, 2012

Lee Scratch Perry comes to NZ

Originally published in Lava Magazine, September 1999. Dug this out after Michael Wells  posted an old pic of him and Mr Perry on Facebook - see below....

A few minutes before this was taken, Michael had asked Perry to autograph
a copy of the Lava issue with him on the cover. Photos courtesy of Big Matt.

He was there when reggae was invented. He was there when dub was invented. In celebration of the man's first and highly anticipated visit to New Zealand late last year [1999], Michael 'Yardboy' Wells took a look at the extraordinary life and times of a legendary producer, musician and visionary.

During the late 1960's, the flipside of 45rpm singles produced in Jamaica began to carry the word VERSION. These sides were usually instrumentals used to test soundsystem levels. Some producers reasoned that to issue a single with a song on either side was risky business, so it became accepted practice to reuse the bare backing track from the A-side on the B-side. At weekend dances, like those held by King Tubby's Hometown Hi-Fi, soundsystem selectors began to spin the instrumental versions of current hits following the vocal for the deejay (now called an mc) to chat over.

Dub was born from experimentation with these instrumentals, pushing the drums and bass forward in the mix, and using the mixing desk itself as an instrument. In the studio, producers utilising two and four track technology began to embellish instrumental versions with studio techniques, adding reverb, delay, dropping instruments in and out of the mix, the producer turned artist. At the forefront of this new development in recording technique two names stood out; one was King Tubby, the other was Lee 'Scratch' Perry.

Born 20 March 1936, Kendal, Jamaica, Rainford Hugh Perry grew up poor, in a small village, where he earned a reputation for being tough and streetwise. His first break came when he was hired by Studio One producer Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd, as jack of all trades, quickly establishing himself as selector at Coxsone's weekly ska soundsystem dances. Perry turned the dances into a huge success, and when he wasn't selecting he would help out with security, defending the sound equipment against sabotage from the hired thugs of rival operator Duke Reid the Trojan. Perry began his recording career at Studio One with Old For New in the early 60's but his first big hit came in 1965 with Chicken Scratch, a song that was to earn him the nickname 'Scratch'.

After almost seven years with Coxsone Perry left Studio One, bitter about not getting the money or recognition he felt was due. He crossed the street to the studios of Joe Gibbs where he recorded, I Am the Upsetter, aimed at his former boss and as a wake-up call to the recording industry. The song added to his growing list of aliases. Gibbs hired Perry to produce bands on his Amalgamated label and Perry willingly obliged, launching a string of local hits including the Pioneers 'Long Shot. This song was to introduce a new rhythm to Jamaica, one that wouldn't have a name until a year later but it is Long Shot and other Perry productions from the time that can be used to support the claim that Perry invented reggae. His association with Gibbs was fruitful but short-lived, and Perry left in a huge furor that culminated in the song People Funny Boy, another stinging retaliation, this time aimed straight at Gibbs.

In 1968, Perry decided he was better off working for himself. He hired the best backing musicians he could get, to form his own studio band that he called 'The Upsetters.'

Inspired by hot Kingston afternoons spent watching Spaghetti-Westerns, Perry and his Upsetters mashed up the dances with their fiery organ-led instrumentals. The music was soul-tinged reggae, inspired by US artists and certainly sounded formidable with song titles like Kill Them All, Return Of Django, and Vampire. The initial Upsetters left to form the backing band for Toots and The Maytals but not before producing two albums for Perry and establishing him as an emerging force in Jamaican music.

When Return Of Django hit the charts in England, Perry put together a new 'Upsetters' to capitalise on the moment. He recruited the rhythm section of The Hippy Boys, a young group fronted by singer Max Romeo and young brothers Aston and Carlton Barrett, who would later rise to fame with a singer by the name of Bob Marley. Perry took his new Upsetters on a tour of Britain, something that had never been done by a reggae group, and they were a hit. On their return, Perry reputedly pocketed most of the tour earnings, to the deep annoyance of his group.

Enter Bob Marley

As The Wailers, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston had cut a few early tunes for Coxsone that were fairly successful, but the young Marley realised that they would need to reinvent their sound for the current trends or fade into obscurity. The Wailers rehearsed with The Upsetters and after a couple of sessions together Marley convinced The Upsetters to leave Perry and join The Wailers.

Perry was livid when heard the news that Marley had stolen his backing group. The tense stand off that followed led to Perry and Marley shutting themselves away for several hours to have it out. The two sides agreed to join forces, both would share the backing musicians with Perry as exclusive producer. The time was right for new producers to prove themselves against the dominance of rival producers Coxsone and Duke Reid, and the public were ready for a new sound.

Perry was more interested with the spooky instrumentals he had previously been crafting and didn't want to work with singers, but Bob's sufferer lyrics and plaintive delivery impacted on Perry's sensibilities. He recognised the overwhelming talent within Marley that needed guidance and nurturing. Despite their intense love/hate relationship, together the two giant personalities created some of The Wailers' most enduring songs, music many would call their best work ever. Perry and Marley shared songwriting duties during the fruitful period between 1969 and 1971 producing instant classics like Small Axe, My Cup and Duppy Conqueror, but eventually loose agreements over money and songwriting credits would spell the end of their dynamic partnership.

The relationship between Perry, The Upsetters and The Wailers was a turning point in reggae history. The foundations were laid for Bob's phenomenal rise to fame and Perry's production skills continued to develop far beyond those of his contemporaries. Marley took the Barrett brothers, formed Bob Marley & The Wailers, and signed to Island Records in 1973. Perry retained the name 'Upsetters' and formed a fresh studio band with a floating lineup drawn from a pool of Jamaica's top musicians that included Tommy McCook and Sly & Robbie. Perry kept the Upsetters going in various forms until their final incarnation in 1986.

The Black Ark.

Perry relocated to Washington Gardens, an uptown part of Kingston, in 1973, where he began constructing a recording studio in his backyard. He took a year to complete the building that would allow him complete independence and creative control as arranger, producer and artist. Perry called his studio 'Black Ark' which would have been an audacious name for any producer, except that in this case history has borne out the legend.

The Black Ark sound was deep and sticky, like wading through molasses, loping, sweetly ganja-infused rhythms resonating with muddy feedback and sampled (as we now refer to it) noises such as running water, mooing cows, children crying, breaking glass, and numerous unidentifiable 'found' sounds. Perry had a way of drawing great beauty from apparent chaos and disaster.

What makes his work so good is that he was working within a largely conservative genre, injecting chance, humour and ethereal otherworldliness without losing the thread of a good tune. He collaborated with King Tubby on two wicked dub albums Blackboard Jungle Dub with Tubby's mix in one channel and Perry's in the other, and King Tubby Meets the Upsetter At The Grass Roots Of Dub that featured one side each of uncluttered, elegant rhythms.

It was during this age of 'classical reggae' that Perry unleashed dub sides of unparalleled excellence; Super Ape, with its loping, spacey tunes and eerie undercurrents is the best example.

Perry earned a reputation for giving relative unknowns a chance to record their stuff and revitalising the careers of stars past their use by date. He would spend as long as necessary to perfect a recording session, unlike most other studios where time was charged strictly to the minute. During recording it would not be out of the ordinary for Perry to be bouncing around the mixing desk, clapping his hands, shouting encouragement, and blowing ganja smoke on the master tapes.

City Too Hot

His trademarks as an arranger and producer were experimentation and eccentricity, backed up by a wealth of technical prowess that appeared chaotic and disciplined at the same time. With only basic four track equipment, Perry was able to create sounds that still defy imitation and always seem to be just out of human reach. Soon the sound reached the ears of the mainstream music industry, and artists like Paul McCartney, Robert Palmer and The Clash starting qeueing up for a sprinkle of Perry's magic.

The studio became a cultural centre that during its heyday was known around the world for producing profoundly conscious roots reggae (check out Heart Of the Congos on Blood & Fire) against a backdrop of rising violence. Guns flooded into the island during the cold war years, and tensions grew between Jamaica, Cuba, and the US.

The heat was building up in Kingston as warring supporters for the nations' two political parties took their differences to the streets during the build-up to elections. Perry came under increasing pressure to perform his wizardry for an endless stream of hopefuls and hangers-on. Listen to Perry's City Too Hot for a musical image of the mood at Black Ark: the times were becoming increasingly dread and the situation was reaching critical mass.

One day in 1979 Perry torched his beloved Black Ark, in a desperate attempt to break free from the pressures that were building up around him and the studio. Perry's wife Pauline had left with their children, tired of the marathon recording sessions that had swallowed up so much of his life for years on end. Perry had ground himself down to exhaustion both mentally and physically.

Some of the dreads that surrounded him in the last few months were demanding protection money and generally bringing heavy vibes into the studio, too heavy for Perry, quoted after the fire: "The Black Ark was too black and too dread, even though I am black, I have to burn it down, it was too black.'' Perry subsequently suffered a mental breakdown and withdrew beneath a veil of erratic behaviour and mad, poetic ranting for which he is now famed.

Modern Dub

The 1980's saw Perry travelling extensively between Jamaica and Europe. He recorded some very dodgy albums during the first half of the decade and toured the US with an even dodgier white reggae band from New York called 'The Terrorists.'

He changed his name several times and swore that Island Records head Chris Blackwell was a vampire, even putting a picture of Blackwell in Dracula garb on the cover of the 1986 album Judgement In A Babylon.

In 1987, On U Sound boss Adrian Sherwood collaborated with Perry for the superb Time Boom X De Devil Dead, the album exceeding all expectations. Sherwood's studio band was the Dub Syndicate, a floating pool of musicians operating much like the Upsetters. The combination was a winner, and all parties came together again in 1989 for the album From The Secret Laboratory, drawing wide praise as a return to his previous greatness.

The same year Perry re-located to Switzerland with Swiss-born Mireille Campbell, who Perry married in a Hare Krishna temple. Campbell is also Perry's manager, and the couple have two children. Despite his advancing years, Perry has never given up professing his love of sex, children and everything in between.

The 1990's have seen a resurgence of interest in Perry's work. The Beastie Boys' Grand Royal magazine (issue 2) devoted around 20 pages to his life and work, and Island Records issued the 3CD Arkology set, while re-issue label Pressure Sounds compiled ultra rare sides for their Voodooism collection.

In 1997 Perry performed two sold-out shows in San Francisco and contributed to the Free Tibet concerts in New York. Most recently Perry has been working closely with the Mad Professor at Ariwa Studios in London, producing strong new material including Black Ark Experryments, Super Ape In The Jungle, a strange but entertaining jungle set and a recent reworking of his classic, Soul Fire.

As entertaining and fascinating as it is, all of the mythology that surrounds the life of Lee Perry would be of little importance without the music. Perry consciously propagates his legendary persona with wacky behaviour, creating a fantastic world around him as if living within his own cartoon character. He produced literally thousands of records, most of them seven inch singles made for the insatiable domestic consumer, and made brilliant albums when it suited him. His music is and will always be the last word on Lee Scratch Perry.

Sources: Reggae Rasta Revolution (Schirmer Books 1997), Grand Royal Magazine (Issue 2 1995-96), interviews with Lee Perry conducted by Mick Sleeper 1997-98. Special thanks to Big Matt.