Stockport’s self-proclaimed resident rockstar (or rather, Stockstar…no? I thought that was quite good) is back with a bang! Make You Mine has been on the airwaves for quite some time now – if you don’t know it, get to know it. This seasoned and slightly overloaded reviewer may or may not have had this on the ‘to review’ pile for a while (I sincerely hope Rory doesn’t mind about this gross negligence of mine), but it’s hopefully worth the wait. Why? Well, there isn’t much more for me to say in regards to this record other than positive poring over it – it’s a seductive, synthy sizzler of a single that dreamily oozes from one catchy hook to another. I caught myself humming the chorus as I typed out this review; while I’m sure it’s not a comparison he’s never had before, this indie-pop enigma of a single echoes the likes of Blossoms, which by many a Mancunian’s standards is quite the fabulous feat.
The blanket of lockdown bleakness has been perfectly punctured through with Make You Mine, an irresistible song that tugs at the sides of your mouth until you’re doing one of those things – what do you call them? Oh yes, smiles. Most of us have been strangers to this seldom-experienced sensation for some time given the gloom of recent months. And yet Rory raises spirits effortlessly in just over three minutes. It’s a real talent to have, that, to transform the whole fabric of one’s mornings. That’s just what this song did for me when I played it for the first time. Having been moodily cocooned in duvet domains for a large part of my morning, a decided lazy day, a quick blast of Wynne’s new winner of a track had me up, showered and ready for the day. It seems that Wynne has truly achieved his goal with the song – “The perfect tune to mark a new chapter.” It inspires a real sense of new beginnings. In a year (hopefully) not totally fraught with captivity and miserable masses. But rather, a celebration of Spring, an advent for adventures to come. The track is pure joy, plain and simple.
Is it a love song? Is it a lust song? A mixture of both, I feel. Wynne himself describes it as a “coming-of-age movie lyrically”, and indeed, this would seem an accurate assertion. It’s a bonafide Bildungsroman (look it up, it’s a mint word), a narrative journey of sorts, and I found myself feeling strangely connected to the subject matter despite having little knowledge on the trials and tribulations of love myself. Considering indie lyrics can, sometimes, fall foul to cop-out-cliches and fairly paint-by-numbers production, to have such an intriguing tale behind the words really does amplify its specialness as a track. It’s unique to many records I’ve heard of its genre – and in fairness, I think by now living in South Manchester for the past few years, I’ve heard a lot.
I think what struck me most when listening to it, was how much I longed for live gigs again. I’ve stated this on previous reviews, I’m sure, and I’m equally sure that you are bored of reading this sentiment of mine – but when one hears a song like this, the thought of being crammed in a sweaty swarm of strangers bouncing to the beat is a thought most tempting. Wynne has wowed before with his live performances on his own tour, a triumphant headline show at Liverpool’s brand new Jimmy’s, and a rowdy successful residency of heralded headline shows here in Manchester. The thought of hearing his chocolately, smooth vocals slipping their way into a crowd makes me absolutely itching to return to normality and gigs in the greatest city in the world (no bias, honest..)
I’m hoping, in excuse for my inexcusable tardiness with said review, that this will re-remind people of what a talent Rory truly is. Wynne is one to watch, there’s no doubt about that, and he only grows bigger and bigger in his creative exploits as he experiments with different instruments, genres and vocal styles. I expect furthermore releases in this enjoyable vein – I particularly enjoyed his previous single, Roses (slightly different to the Outkast one, but still properly good, promise). I can’t help but feel Tom Ogden and the gang should probably watch out. Stockport’s new indie titan looks well on his way to rethroning them as Stocky’s finest export…
‘Make You Mine’ is available on all good streaming sites. You can follow Rory on Instagram here, and Twitter here. Listen to this new single below:
“Wings – they’re only the band the Beatles could have been!” Ah, the immortal words of Alan Partridge. And how true these words spoken were, by the most righteous of prophets. All joking aside, there is a clear mission statement for this hastily 3AM penned article, and it is this – dear reader, by the end of it, I want you to be as convinced as I am of Wings’ musical genius. Paul and Linda McCartney’s post-Beatle brainchild has apparently long been considered, well, a bit…uncool to like. I remember a long time ago now – four score and seven years ago, to quote a certain Mr Lincoln (not as a trustworthy source as Partridge, I’m aware) when I was seeing a gentleman in a markedly romantic fashion. We had a fiery, vicious debate that genuinely ended in what I can only describe from my end as unbridled rage. And why, you ask? Because the fella in question had the gall to remark these terrible words: “Paul McCartney is a wet-wipe.” I took personal offence to this statement. To disregard some of the most romantic, catchy hooks and loving lyrics of Mr McCartney and his winged vehicle is to disregard some serious, serious tuneage. I can understand Temporary Secretary hate (and, come to think of it, a fair chunk of McCartney II disdain also). But you cross the line with Wings. There’s a myriad of reasons why I will defend Wings to the death. Here’s a few, splayed out in a lovely parade of paragraphs for you. By the end of this, if you’re not convinced of Wings’ genius, well. I don’t know what to tell you. I’ll have to banish you to the same dungeon of oblivion that said gentleman was banished to.
Wet-wipe. Wet. Wipe. Hmm. Hmm. Let’s analyse that assertion, shall we? I suppose on face value, wet-wipe just sort of means a bit soft and sensitive, but in a cringey sense. But in reality – what is cringey about being open emotionally with your lyrics, and singing about something other than the rock-n-roll cliche norm of smashing drugs and fornicating en-masse with stunning seventies maidens? Surely there’s something markedly sweet and refreshing about hearing a man sing just about how much he loves his wife, really? After all, it’s worked for Robert Smith thus far, hasn’t it. In 1976’s Silly Love Songs, Paul muses,”Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs / and what’s wrong with that / I’d like to know?” And here, Paul demonstrates my point exactly. Paul is mocking what critics and John Lennon himself had long dismissed him as – just a songwriter who wrote solely “sentimental slush”. Check out what Paul said to Billboard of this song back in ’76:
“But over the years people have said, ‘Aw, he sings love songs, he writes love songs, he’s so soppy at times.’ I thought, Well, I know what they mean, but, people have been doing love songs forever. I like ’em, other people like ’em, and there’s a lot of people I love — I’m lucky enough to have that in my life. So the idea was that “you” may call them silly, but what’s wrong with that?
The song was, in a way, to answer people who just accuse me of being soppy. The nice payoff now is that a lot of the people I meet who are at the age where they’ve just got a couple of kids and have grown up a bit, settling down, they’ll say to me, ‘I thought you were really soppy for years, but I get it now! I see what you were doing!'”
And well…he’s right. What is wrong with ‘silly’ love songs? What is wrong with being so full to the seams of love that you can’t help but let it spill out through your vocal chords now and then? If being a romantic qualifies one to be a wet-wipe then I suppose Shakespeare was a wet-wipe? And the Brontes must have been bonafide wetties by that definition. Don’t even get me started on penguins, man. They have the same bird (no pun intended!) forever, and mate together for life. Cringe, right?! I think one really just really needs to reevaluate their cynicism towards the easy-listening group by assessing whether this ties into their opinion of love as a whole. The newly-dumpeds, the scorned and spurneds, the perpetually single of us. We may indeed be tempted to sh*t all over a band that celebrate and unabashedly love love. But even as someone who at this point is certainly disillusioned by the notion of romance, I can recognise the beauty of it flourishing in others. I acknowledge the happiness that it and sentiments of it inspire in others, especially through a variety of art-forms. Why wouldn’t I want other people to be joyful? I think not liking Wings is a you problem, frankly.
Where does this ingrained dislike of Macca come from, particularly from Beatles fans?! Well, I have a hypothesis of sorts. I really do feel that, especially post-Beatlemania, there’s a strange hyper-masculinity that has developed to idolising John Lennon in favour of shunning the more sensitive, softer songs by Paul McCartney. This isn’t a criticism of the song-writing of Lennon by any means. He was, though questionable of character, an exemplary songwriter and cool cat. However, it seems to me that the Dark Fruits-brandishing, football and Oasis-admiring, Abbey Road-worshipping side of Beatles fans seem to build themselves on Lennon in a way. Certainly, he isn’t ‘cringe’ by any means, and is arguably the ‘cooler’ character – whatever cool is. But it worries me how ingrained in misogyny a lot of his songs and his personal behaviour (in regards to both Cynthia Lennon and Yoko Ono) were. It worries me that this subtle degradation of women is something that resonates with younger male fans and has since the sixties. On Beatles records particularly there’s a stark difference in the songs that he vocalises on and McCartney’s songs – even in terms of his love songs. For example, compare a batch of McCartney vocal heavy songs: Blackbird, Hide Your Love Away, Michelle. Compare these to the experimental, brash, semi-obnoxious (but nonetheless tunes) of Lennon: Getting Better, Come Together, Yer Blues. The harshness in his voice is palpable in comparison to the gentle warble of Paul. Lennon’s lyrics – particularly in his solo foray – glorify predominantly the abuse and use of women sexually, heavy drug use and criticism of war and violence (despite having no issue inflicting this onto his own wives domestically, but I digress). As I say, this hero-worshipping of Lennon worries me in relation to its effect on his younger, impressionable listeners. Since when did being loving, sweet and respectful of women become ‘uncool’ and ‘undesirable’? So what if Lennon never would have done deeply cringe eighties ventures like McCartney’s duet with Stevie Wonder (linked below…dear God, need I say more.) I’d argue the lyrics and persona of McCartney and Wings as a whole is far more of moral depth, quality and general goodness than any project of narcissism Lennon ever churned out.
Okay, I realise that’s quite a harsh condemnation of Lennon. I do enjoy his music, honestly. I just do not enjoy the Wings slander, and I’ll argue for their case in any way possible – especially if that means critiquing the bizarre masculine paladin-ism of one John Lennon. I sincerely dislike the notion that music has to be deemed ‘cool’ to be likeable. I know plenty of cool people who like Wings, thank you – my housemates Mae and Josh are fellow ardent fans of the Band on the Run, as is my friend Mof (undeniably one of the grooviest gents I’ve ever known), who likes them a lot. Well, a real lot. Check his tattoo out, by Kurt Mitchell. Tell me that isn’t gnarly, or whatever the kids are saying these days…
On a technical level though, and in wider terms of their musicianship, how can anyone defy their talent? I normally feel music and music taste is completely subjective, but in regards to Wings (who I care for in almost a maternal, protective sense) I don’t think it is even up for discussion. They are excellent, fact. They dabble in so many genres: pop, classic rock, blues, even bordering on the operatic in tracks like Live and Let Die. The complexity and showmanship that go into each of their songs is incredibly admirable. I had the pleasure of bearing witness to McCartney live in 2018, when I went to go and see him at the O2. He did a mixture of Beatles, stuff from Ram, and Wings. I remember being so struck at the time by just how many incredible songs Wings have made that I didn’t even know were by them. I particularly enjoyed when he introduced Let ‘Em In as the ‘Postcode Lottery song’ – but also realised that this is perhaps why people don’t really find Wings very, ahem, cool.
To conclude and summarize my essay-structured argument, I’ve left below a link to one of the best compilations of all time, Wings Greatest. A man in a record shop once gave me this for free because reportedly ‘nobody was going to buy it, anyway’. I can’t understand why. From Hi, Hi, Hi to Jet, every song on this is magical in its own way. I implore you, those still remaining unconvinced, to listen to this and deny their genius in any respect. Just because living on a farm in the Mull of Kintyre, knitting jumpers and raising animals for pleasure rather than sustenance, isn’t very rock ‘n’roll, it doesn’t mean that Wings are. The fact that Paul remains unabashedly his lovely self, and the fact that oozes through these sunshine songs, makes Wings all the more likeable to me. I hope you leave this article a bonafide Wings aficionado; and if not, I want to know why not. Come on, I haven’t got all day.
(I think I’ve put more work into this than I have ever put into a piece of university work. Is that bad? Oh, well. For Paul, anything…)
Ah… to comment on a YouTube video, forget about it entirely in the 2/3 years since and suddenly get a *reminder* about it but a few days ago… in the packaging of a reply, combative in nature. The video in question was a live performance of The Cult playing their track ‘Nirvana’ on Bliss, some long defunct TV show. Now, let us examine the comment that started this saga, the reply that provoked a crossing of keyboards and perhaps even dissect the causality of what this represents in the grand portrait of affairs.
To explain, when I mean ‘anime villain phase’; The Cult were a band that had a great thing going on their first 2 LPs, Dreamtime & Love. They were a kind of fusion of the whole punk-cravat-post scene, with a clear homage to the classical (rock) soloing of the late-60s/early 70s, something I imagine would have been sacrilege to attempt in the eyes of the more puritanical of stud-fiends. I’m not alone in regarding this earlier material as being both artistically superior and generally much more consistent than their unfortunate transition to the commercial viabilities (thanks Rick Rubin) the LA cock-rock thing granted them. As expected, it was only a matter of time before they become something of a joke by trend-tailing themselves into the gutter, courtesy of the Nevermind-led crusade that swiftly put them and the rest of the spandex-ilk to the sword. Anyway, the reply, by a fellow (re)named “Geoff Rodgers”, laid bare his hostility towards the medium of Japanimation… and quite possibly to I?
Never one to shrug off an exchange fraught with little-to-no danger, and a general desire to provoke “Geoff” into an incandescent stupor, I countered that he ought to try just a little harder! Ignorant to my scheming, he took the bait, as though he were farmer being (falsely) informed someone was uprooting his crops and flogging them at a local market, price heightened. He dished me a comeback, albeit a little on the ordinary side… not quite the catch of, let’s say encircling the German 6th Army, but it’ll do for the time being. On a tactical level, only an idiot would reciprocate with further spewing.
Instead, I undertook the principle of taking the cycle lane (favourable terrain*) over the motorway, where the perils of velocity dictate! Continuing to irk my conversational assailant through my own interpretation of sophistry, I slowly began to whittle down his decision-making capacity. If all went well, I would (soon?) be able to snatch the initiative away from him; his hopes of a swift, outright victory crumbling before his bewildered eyes, minute-by-minute.
Overconfident, I took pity on his (apparent*) fruitless struggle. Offering him a reprieve, I quoted from Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, specifically from a character that happened to be the ‘Anime Villain’ of that story, the very thing he feared. His terse, almost neutral acknowledgement appeared to indicate a sense of fatigue, the classic ‘bitten off more than he could chew’ realisation… just right for the table of negotiation.
Softening to something a little more conciliatory, I wished him well in all his endeavours, grand and not. Never a man to stamp down on an opponent’s aspirations, I sort to display to him the idea of magnanimity had not been lost in this plutocratic free-for-all we call the present. Yet, it seemed he wanted no such truce…? Puzzled, I attempted a deconstruction; where could his motivations lie? Was he intent on going down with his ship? Could his antagonism toward me be a deep-routed thing? Might his socio-economic background, opaque to I, have played a part in his ‘rationale’? Perhaps he only liked The Cult from their 1987-period onwards, and was just looking for trouble by visiting the comment section of their earlier, pre-1987 material? Had the tables been turned without me even knowing? Just… who… is… “Geoff Rodgers”!? Your guess is as good as mine.
Attempting to make sense of his increasingly disagreeable tone, I cited a theory of the late Mr Huxley. Whether or not he was familiar with the Mind-At-Large concept or even the hallucinogenic wonders of trouser creases was… irrelevant, his curt reply, as though quoting that ‘root beer’ scene from Reefer Madness, was enough to indicate where his true values lay. What’s that? A hypothesis you say? Hmm… The only ‘antipodes’ he appears to be sailing towards… would have to be… (*unfortunate curtain call*) the fringe-right of conventional political thought; aligning him (no doubt) with the likes of the extrajudicial deaths-squads of Rio De Janeiro, the white-robed Clerics of Riyadh and… of course, the ever-nefarious Piers Morgan.
In a futile attempt to appeal to his better angels, I tried to get him to shake off the scourge of his dangerous beliefs. Alas, I received no further correspondence… my measured diplomacy no match for his past-glorifying, delusional fantasies.
Now, if I may address our mercurial pariah directly, as a last resort –
Angus: “Geoff”, if I dare presume first-name basis… should you still be lucid enough to read these words, I implore you to do the right (not that!) thing and cease with your latent misdeeds. Laugh if you want, a warning such as this might seem innocuous to you, and the other ‘residents’ of that particular… ideological tree-house, but… as the saying goes, ‘the cat is out of the bag’. And with that; I offer you a rope away from your tendencies, with these parting words: less of the jingo, and more of… the Ringo.
Ah, The Muppet Show. Beloved by everyone from the freshest of flowers to those in the same age bracket as Statler and Waldorf, The Muppets have a strangely appealing quality that spans across well – everyone, really. It’s no surprise then, that from the 1976-1981 original run of the show to even modern Muppet iterations today, even the most golden of musical glitterati couldn’t resist getting involved with the fuzzy friends. Having been host to the likes of Dave Grohl, Charles Aznavour, Harry Belafonte and Weezer, the puppets have performed alongside a smorgasbord of incredible and random guests over the years. Here’s a few of the best fabulously bizarre moments that two entertainment worlds collided over, erm, frog and pig puppets.
In 1977, the bonafide king of glam rock and all things fabulously flamboyant graced The Muppet Show stage by playing his classic croon Crocodile Rock in- you guessed it – a swamp filled with crocodiles. In Kermit’s best-selling tell-all autobiography (the greatest autobiography since the likes of Nelson Mandela’s, arguably) Before You Leap, Kermit states that his mother booked Elton John into the local theatre. While there, Kermit’s mother of course introduced John to the crocodile that inspired “Crocodile Rock.” I think Bernie Taupin was probably in that swamp too, you know. Why didn’t The Electric Mayhem play on more John records?
Punk princess Joan Jett of The Runaways and The Blackhearts fame produced probably her greatest musical offering yet (and from a legend like her, that’s saying something) when she collaborated with The Muppets in 2016 to sing Bad Reputation. When Miss Piggy suffers a scandalous wardrobe malfunction, the network that The Muppets are represented by is outraged, and Piggy is forced to question everything she stands for. By the end of the episode, Jett helps Piggy remember her worth and empowers her – who cares if the public sees your pig tail, right? And who better to teach Miss Piggy to not give a f*ck than the queen of not giving a f*ck herself. #UnveilTheTail, man.
It’s hard to think of anything cooler and more iconic than Blondie bombshell Deborah Harry. But then I remembered that she dueted with Kermit The Frog in 1980, and the result was glorious. Beyond glorious. Here she is singing a favourite childhood song of mine and millions of others, The Rainbow Connection, but she also sang her own classics like Call Me and One Way Or Another. In the episode, Kermit’s unbearably cute nephew Robin’s Scout Troop visit the show and ask Debbie for her help in earning their “punk merit badges”. I’m still hoping to earn mine one day…
Make no mistake, there is nothing more shock-rock in the world than erm, singing puppets. Alice Cooper proved this point in his 1978 Muppet Show appearance, claiming to be an agent of the Devil and a Faustian character trying to strike a deal with The Muppets for their souls. After all, I think we can all agree that Kermit has much more soul, personality and good morals than most living souls these days. I can understand why Cooper fancied pinching our favourite Amphibian-American’s. Here he is performing School’s Out. I bet headteacher Sam The Eagle feels a right daft sod now.
1979 saw son of Woody, folk star Arlo Guthrie, play some of his greatest hits on a farm-themed Muppet stage (mainly from his 1976 record, Amigo). Normally, Guthrie would lend his voice to songs of human rights struggles and social justice ballads. I’d argue that the plight of The Swedish Chef looking for something to cook for a family meal other than his chicken counterparts is…sort of a social issue. Starvation? Maybe? I don’t know if these puppets even have digestive systems, but I digress.
Paul Simon is arguably the cutest human on Earth. That’s just a fact. So what could be more wholesome than our sunshiney king singing with the cutest puppets on earth?! 1980 blessed us with an episode dedicated to the Simon & Garfunkel folk trailblazer, as he helped Gonzo learn to improve on his songwriting. Though personally, I find Gonzo’s lyricism quite inspiring. “For youuu… I’d wash my hair with stinky glue, I’d fry my legs and eat them too, I’d put a spider in my shoe — for yoouuuu!” I hope one day someone writes a song for me that’s so rich with romantic sentiment.
Probably one of the most famous Muppets guests, in 1980 a country-themed episode played host to the iconic Johnny Cash. Cash dueted with Rowlf the dog in Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog, a song surprisingly not written just for the purpose of singing one day an anthropomorphic hound, but rather actually performed live at the famous Folsom Prison concert by Cash. Rowlf ended up taking great offence to the lyrics within, though Cash assured him it was in jest. I think Cash’s greatest beef was probably with a puppet dog, you know. He was a fairly agreeable guy by all accounts. Well, unless you’re Waylon Jennings of The Highway Man. If you’re interested…
Muppets Tonight treated us to a 1997 cameo from the dearly missed Prince, and what a cameo that it was. He was known as his symbol at this time, so he’s referred to chiefly as ‘The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’. Behold, as TAFKAP creates a song made from the Commissary menu of the hotel he’s staying in. Not sure why he plumps for this rather than Raspberry Sorbet, but I’m not complaining; this is a bonafide banger.
Good golly, Miss Dolly! Now here is a Muppet icon in her own right. Dolly Parton is the definition of a country legend (and, of course, an inspiration to the equally pink and fabulous blonde bombshell Miss Piggy herself). Muppet Magazine, a respected publication on a par with the one you are currently privy to, crowned Ms Parton an Honorary Muppet in 1986. She has collaborated with the Muppets many times, most recently in 2012 singing Islands In The Stream with Kermit as her Kenny Rogers. I’ve attached a clip from the 1987 Dolly show, so technically this isn’t a Muppets appearance. But it’s far too iconic to not include. I think Dolly and Kermit make quite the fetching couple, don’t you?
Okay, okay, so this isn’t quite a cameo as such. Talking Heads frontman Byrne isn’t present – or is he? Listen, it would be so wrong of me to not finish on this gem. I’m not going to explain this 1980 classic video; some art is better appreciated as is, you know? Besides, you’d only tell me to stop making sense, anyway. If you know, you know.
A friend of mine (A) enquired if I was going to see Bo Ningen, a band (unknown to me) hailing from that four-island archipelago, at the Night & Day Cafe… I was not, but after a brief discussion, I decided to tag along. The preceding part of the day was largely uneventful; I ate something derived from a cow while watching an episode of Firing Line, the one about the looming danger of hippies. It featured a declining, blisteringly crocked Jack Kerouac being repeatedly shushed (that’s right) by William Buckley Jr. Though seemingly inarticulate, there was some sense to be had of Kerouac’s gargled interruptions. 13 –
Before long I reached the Gardens, swiftly assembling an inventory sufficient for illicit consumption. Another friend (B) happened upon a random pin, buried inside a bag; through curiosity, I agreed to their request to pierce my right ear… with it, the venue but a metre away. The pain was feeble, short in duration and un-prodigious in blood. A momentary mishap with the pin’s whereabouts, followed by a slight misdirection, proved insignificant to the relevant lobe’s biological integrity. Of course, what caught my eye in the midst of this ad hoc modification was neither the chitchat of cafe-residuals nor the fleeting movement of vehicles. It was the ground itself, a grey not quite in the vein of George Clooney’s steel thatch, but of a worn concrete. Through the footborne battery descending above, absolutely no mind had been paid to its labour-some efforts of providing platform to all whom value structural buoyancy. Feeling no need to pull a Pope John Paul (II), I went inside. The support acts performed as obligated, but an unforeseen challenge in the form of a bouncer emerged. Pragmatically, he suggested I hide my cans offsite, for the familiar protocol was sacrosanct. Overcome by sheer hubris, I attempted my old trick, but he proved a shrewd foe. – 10 –
Cast out, and left with nothing to spectate, I walked in the general direction of Salford, without an aim to call my own. I contacted yet another friend (C), who happened to be attending a gig-of-length. The headliner, previously unknown to I, was said to be drone in stylistic… tone? A walk of pace toward the Partisan Collective, a peripheral (literal & metaphorical) hub, which to me (at least at the time*), supplanted the likes of the other “peripheral” hubs, much too absorbed in their magnetic pulling of the (perpetual) safety-pin types. There was only one act left by my arrival, and the added risk of a full-priced fee. Fortunately, with the help of C, the guard protecting the passage allowed me through, free of charge, my previously incriminating Taurus(s) also permitted, so long as I dare not consume within… Sly and the Family Drone, as I came to discover them as, began their set in dimmed lighting, unfavourable to conventional eyesight. They were far better than anything I could have envisioned, following that recent debacle. Eschewed were the tropes of standard rock and/or roll, and brought forth were the usage of brass, decibel delinquency and what I can only describe as… percussive participation. Towards the middle, one of them took out a singular cymbal, and placed it out near the audience. Handing myself, C and some other guy each a stick, he ordered us to bang on it as hard as we could. We did, though I feel my sense of rhythm somewhat (unsurprisingly) lacked when compared to my fellow draftees. Time placement not exactly known; I soon broke my earlier promise, but I knew (with confidence) that initial crack… superseded then by the all-familiar sip… would be masked to all sensory elements, courtesy of the external impediments our senses are loathe to match. – 18
Early sampling, World Music, an unread novel from 50’s Nigeria and an angry letter from the Islamic Council of Great Britain. Climb into your DeLorean/police-box/whatever your preferred method of time travel may be and take yourself back exactly 4 decades, to February 1981 and the long-awaited release of what would prove to be a divisive, somewhat controversial and strangely prophetic album- My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (listen below).
Around the turn of the decade, as the collected humans on Planet Earth kicked everything up a notch and threw themselves wholeheartedly into the madcap riot that was the 1980’s, a young Mr David Byrne was already well on his way to being crowned the King of Arty New Wave. His band, Chattering Craniums, had seen critical success with their last two albums (More Songs About Buildings and Food and Fear of Music) at the tail end of the 70’s, and to top it all off he’d met an old, kind-hearted Englishman who was far too polite for anyone to point out he was losing his hair. Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno had worked as a producer on both of the aforementioned Babbling Bonces records and during the brief lull between these and the recording of what would become Discoursing Domes’ magnum opus Remain in Light, both he and and the young Mr Byrne found they had some time on their hands. Suggestions of a lengthy game of eye-spy or charades were quickly dismissed and, after a particularly competitive game of scrabble broke out in a fierce scrap over the spelling of the word ‘quixotic’, the dynamic duo decided to hunker down and make something Avant-Guard, exciting and, crucially, quite pretentious. And so, with typical middle class art school zeal, they set about making their masterpiece.
Or that’s how the story supposedly goes. The deeper origins of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts aren’t as clear cut as some would rather make out, with the project originally having started with some collaboration between Byrne, Eno and ‘Fourth World’ cosmonaut Jon Hassell. According to Hassell, who is largely believed to have never told a lie in his entire life, the young Mr Byrne had been ever so keen to help out with “anything that was needed” while recording Hassell and Eno’s catchily titled ambient triumph, Fourth world, Vol. 1: Possible Musics. Unfortunately by that point all the jobs had been given out and everyone already had a brew, so the young Mr Byrne’s melodic magic never graced the studio’s walls. Maybe that’s what Bush of Ghosts really is, a young King David’s revenge? Or perhaps I’ve been watching too much Adam Curtis and began seeing plots and conspiracies everywhere. Either way, Hassell’s continued collaboration with Eno-man and his trusty sidekick Byrne-boy ended with him quitting the project almost immediately as the dangerouslybored (as previously mentioned) duo set off and began twatting about with radios.
In all honesty it can’t really be said for sure how much of the project is the work of Jon Hassell, with him having contributed “sketches” to it and later claimed the album “came out of me”, while also bowing out of the project so early, as it began to move in directions that just he wasn’t there for. His name was removed from any credits, but the influence of Fourth World’s ‘Fourth world’ mix of tribal world music and heavy ambient textures can’t be denied when listening to Bush of Ghosts, as brilliant as all of Byrne and Eno’s nonsense is. There’s also a fair claim to be made that Fourth World’s music captures the spirit of the 1958 Nigerian novel, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, far more accurately than Byrne and Eno’s effort, with a now old Mr Byrne admitting in the 2006 reissue’s liner notes that neither of them had read the book, and the title just “seemed to encapsulate what the record was about”.
But I digress.
What the unfathomably bored Professor Eno and Head Prefect Byrne did produce was a bizarre, manic and technologically revolutionary mix of funk, world music, droning synths, and spliced and repurposed samples of everything from Algerian chants to political speeches to exorcisms. In the words of “Dr Eno, I presume?”, Bush of Ghosts is his “African psychedelic vision”, something which sounded a bit colonial even to audiences back in ’81.
The first track developed for the project appears second on the album, Mea Culpa. By all accounts this began as an example from Eno as to the kind of thing he was wanting to do with tape loops and samples- using them as the main focus and essentially lead vocals of the tracks while building a driving mix of sounds both defiantly electronic and primally organic beneath. This is what was achieved on the finished song at least. The John Carpenter-esque two chord synth melody drones oppressive in the background, a heavy cloud hanging above frenetic and layered polyrhythmic tribal drumming. The raw and natural feeling to the percussion casts a stark juxtaposition to the synthetic world around it, as dominating the track and taking the lead is a collaged recording stolen off the airwaves by notorious radio pirates, Captain Brian “long-hair” Eno and his loyal first mate David “seasick” Byrne. The bounty in question was a back and forth between a calm politician and a very cross indeed constituent, speaking on a New York radio call-in show sometime in July 1979. The recording is chopped, broken up and distorted beyond comprehension, leaving it as just about recognisable speech sounds dancing to a melody of alternating fury and measured reassurance. What immediately springs to mind for me with this track is the very similar broken speech sounds found on Boards of Canada’s fantastic Telephastic Workshop, from their 1999 album Music Has the Right to Children. More on this later though.
Indeed the story behind a lot of the samples on the album is really one of the most interesting parts of its existence, sometimes even more so than the very nerdy and ridiculously convoluted, pre-digital faffing that went on to make the field recordings actually work as songs. Track 3, Regiment, is notable not only for its absolutely fierce and confident bassline, as played by Michael “Busta Cherry” Jones, but also for the eerily beautiful and ancient sounding singing of Dounia Yunis. The sample originated from a recording session in the office of Iraqi ‘oud legend’ (the string instruments that look a bit like a medieval lute), Mounir Bashir, done in 1972 with the purpose of selecting a local singer for a Traditional Folk Festival. The recording was then found in 1976 and added to a compilation album entitled Music in the World of Islam 1: The Human Voice, and once again uncovered in 1980 by Indiana Eno and his plucky damsel in distress, Marion Byrne. In just 8 years Yunis’ voice had travelled halfway around the world and ended up appearing alongside not only Jones’ sublime bass playing but also terminal weirdo Robert Fripp and the magic of his ‘Frippertronics’, which create all sorts of frippertronic sounds as he plays a frippertronic solo that’s really rather far out. Also noteworthy is the fact that by this point no one had any idea who the woman singing was, and Dounia Yunis heard neither the original recording of her voice, nor David Byrne and his cool stepdad’s 1980 science fair project, until very recently. It goes without saying she saw not a penny for anything; never accept being paid in exposure kids.
The crowing jewel of the wide range of samples used on Bush of Ghosts however is the one that also got Misters Byrne and Eno in a spot of hot water- track 6, Qu’ran, also taken from Music in the World of Islam 1. The sample of a recital from the titular book is layered over a heavy, slow, uneasy and almost dub feeling beat, one that today would instantly be thought of as an ingenious hip hop (or trip hop) track. The melody is beautiful and thickly narcotic and appearing as the first track of the second side proudly signals the album’s descent into more pensive and somewhat darker sounds. However this hypnotising taste of the enchantingly exotic (because that’s what world music sort of is really) only appeared on the first pressing of the album, and not long after release had vanished from the tracklist completely. This was as the Islamic Council of Great Britain, who are fairly well known to be massive Roxy Music fans, sent a strongly worded letter explaining why they thought the song was blasphemy, and like teenagers caught with half a joint, Bry and Dave chucked it fast.
Replacing Qu’ran on subsequent versions of the album was the polar opposite, Very, Very Hungry. And this manic collision of rhythmic synths, sounds and beats leads me neatly back to what I was saying earlier when I mentioned Boards of Canada. So much of this album, with its tumbling, hypnotising, layered rhythms complimented by bizarre and obscure samples wouldn’t raise a single eyebrow if found nestled in the early mixes of Aphex Twin, Autechre, or any electronic group from around the early 90’s. When viewed chronologically it seems very easy to draw a straight line of influence from Bush of Ghosts to all number of things, and herein lies the difficulty of assessing the real lasting impact of it. Because while basically everything that self-described ‘fucking geniuses’ Eno and Byrne created was wonderfully ahead of its time, a lot of it had also already been done. Sampling as a way of not just embellishing but creating songs was already being explored, as was the combining of the ultra-modern synth technology with the ancient notion of a powerful beat. When looked at from this point of view, it seems more accurate to describe Bush of Ghosts as ‘prophetic’ rather than ‘influential’, a remarkably accurate exercise in fortune telling on behalf of the pair. Despite this it has also been listed as a key album of inspiration for the famous Victorian ghost Kate bush, the one who played keyboards in Pink Floyd, and Hank Shocklee’s utterly brilliant production for groups like Public Enemy, so maybe I’m being too hard on it.
A fun extra note about Bush of Ghosts is that the original album art was even designed by Factory’s own Peter Saville, by cutting up little paper people and pasting them onto a tv screen displaying a healthy case of video feedback. And with that brilliant little bit of lo-fi design, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was finished. Almost.
Despite being recorded in 1980, due to the paperwork involved with all the samples used it wouldn’t be until February 1981 that Bush of Ghosts would finally see the light of day. After all, all this using other songs business still seemed most irregular. This left the nation’s favourite double act with a lot of 1980 still to kill, and they’d learned to stay away from board games. Though there was some initial concern from cool uncle Eno that maybe he was spending a bit too much time with his weedy nephew, and that maybe David should make some more friends, he did return to produce on Tattling Têtes’ next album, Remain in Light. With tape loops, sci-fi sounds and more tribal rhythms than Piccadilly Gardens on a sunny day, Remain in Light as much carries on from Bush of Ghosts as it does The Head’s previous album Fear of Music. Like the proverbial Shakespearean ghost at the feast, Jon Hassell even showed up in the studio during the Remain in Light sessions, however after some panic it was quickly established that he wasn’t a spirit warning of their demise and was actually there to lay down a sick chorus of horns and a tasty solo to match on the track Houses in Motion. Great stuff Jon!
Critics were mixed when Bush of Ghosts was finally released, with most of them impressed by what they saw, but not particularly certain what they were looking at. Some gave praise to the level of technological skill involved and the intelligent use of rhythms and field recordings, while others such as Robert “Unimpressed” Christgau were, well, unimpressed. Overall though with records such as My Life in the Bush of Ghosts I always find that it is best enjoyed without searching for deeper meaning. Let it exist as a snapshot in time, when so much which is standard and accepted now was so cutting edge and exciting, a wonderful freeze frame of the joy of trying something new without much of a message or a purpose. Drawing once again from the 2006 reissue’s liner notes, Byrne says “it is assumed that I write lyrics (and the accompanying music) for songs because I have something I need to “express”… I find that more often, on the contrary, it is the music and the lyric that triggers the emotion within me rather than the other way around.”.
Bush of Ghosts exists for the fun of its own existence, and while the early idea that award-winning fantasy novelists Byrne and Eno create a series of recordings based on an imaginary lost culture and release them anonymously was quickly dismissed, the album that did result, with its at once ahead of it’s time and proudly ancient marriage of sounds and an entire mini mythology about the fact of it’s existent, absolutely makes it a timeless project from the pair of them.
Declining an offer of free entry to a live improvisation, featuring a temp paisley retinue at the Chameleon Arts Cafe (quite the steal I hear), I opted instead to purchase a ticket of entry for the festival in question. My relative proximity (visiting, not living) towards Salford, the titular ‘Other City’, proved decisive in my (momentary) deliberation. The day fit the ideal of being outdoors, with the queues plentiful and the logistics respectable. In venues all over, a spectrum of performers obscure and not did the predictable thing.
Yet… oddly enough, what provoked my memory of this receding event was not a stagger-some performance (of which there were a quantity) or a o’Man’o’Pint being unceremoniously escorted from the premises, owing to preceding (bacchanalian) behavioural patterns… It was a picture I took of that day (see above), which just so happened to be in the month of just 3 letters. Upon tripping (clicking*) on it within my documents folder, I couldn’t help but think allegorically; the apex-ed few, the ‘captain’s at the helm’ of this much-disdained cylinder represented, to me at least, a societal commandeering. These tins-on-deck (barring the Lucozade) could be applied to any edifice of authority, be it government or sleazy record executive, for all below, in spite of their numerical superiority, looked but trash-designate in comparison. The denizens inside, the ‘fellow travellers’, could perhaps be afforded certain benefits and stabilities… though remember, subordinate to the arbitrary whim of the upper caste, they remain. As for the urchins beneath, the ‘peons’, seemingly they appear disallowed to reside within. Languishing at the gates, they are compelled to congregate further and further away from the placidity of roof and wall, and into the peripheral of uncertainty… for all lodgings were taken.
The rubbishing of hierarchical structures aside, I now move to anecdote the security apparatus; staffed largely by student volunteers unintimidating in disposition, with a smaller cadre of bouncers guarding such sites of importance as the performer’s cafeteria, and the odd *staff only* door, varying in paintwork and wooden sourcing. Passing through the various ‘checkpoints’ clustered about; the standard protocol of bag searching was in place. The implication of this was that attempting to smuggle alcohol, external in origin, into this parameter of fanfare was predictably… verboten. I offset this by (superficially) covering the contraband with clothing and/or leaflets relevant to the ongoing day. Usually it worked, for the auxiliaries lacked both the incentive and vocational doctrine to perceive my economic subversion. Yet, for the stoic guardsman I had to do something a little different… for this event was but one of many in their distinguished service record. I didn’t wear a particularly baggy jumper that day, so the obvious scheme of stuffing all the tins into the back of it was out of the question. Recalling the concept of dead-drops, I hid the majority of them in a hedge, while keeping one at hand, albeit concealed. Passing through these checkpoints with frequency (you know how it is with the timetable) eventually lulled them into a false sense of security, with the general assumption being that since it was empty before, it must be empty now… I traversed unopposed!
Darkness brought about a new dimension to the whole scenario, as did my fatigue from 4 days of consumption, with the orange lighting emitting from an adjacent takeaway giving me moderate cause to dislike the notion of artificial illumination. In cooperation with my bandana, I tied an inflatable bird to my head, as though I myself had been commandeered. Whether or not it remained on my head with regard to longevity mattered not; it was this act of individuality, this… executive decision… the most arbitrary of whims even, that I placed this item, almost salmon in colouring, on one’s (very own) noggin. I dare not fathom what could have been, had I been the one at the wheel of society’s course, or conversely a tenant in that infernal peripheral. Sometime later (maybe a year?), bandana and faux-Flamingo long since departed, I heard that the organisers of the aforementioned spectacle had curtailed its size? So, the event in question, one that had ended nearly 3 years ago… laden with capital-dispensing consumers (people, not cans*) and capital-inducing performers… had passed by its zenith (Sunday, 36th of April, 2018 AD) and would be right-sizing itself, much like the book-cooking theme park administrators of old, from now… on? Well, what went wrong?
Angus: I have no idea, but I suspect it’s monetary in reasoning.