Landmarks can be pretty arbitrary things sometimes. 500 this, 75 that, but I recently hit the quite ridiculous heights of 199 mixes for the Mixcloud account. Now, while I am not comparing this with anything that really is world changing, it did make me think that for the 200 I should make a bit more effort than normal and pull out a few stops for big two tonne.
I’ve dabbled a bit with themed mixes, couple of label specials or for occasions but never something that gives a bit of a look back on my musical history. I’m not going to pretend it’s anything too original I’ll admit I lean big on some very heavy hitters but these tracks all have memories of times, places and above all people.
There are omissions, as soon as I put something in it made me think of another I’d left out but it was fun making it and I’ve tried to give the story behind some of them below….who knows if they’ll be a 300, but as ever… enjoy!
John Coltrane – Naima: A slow start, something spiritual and moving, simple yet incredibly complex in its emotion. Coltrane is a favourite and has been for a long time. The virtuosity is stunning on the bop stuff but this is one track I can always come back to. I think it was written for his wife and it comes across as a love song. Despite its slow tempo I find it uplifting and the ending just leaves you with a warmth inside.
Bill Evans – Peace Piece: This was a “what is that tune?” moment when I first heard it. It’s very simple like Naima, not much going on apparently, none of the bombast and chaos some jazz will give you. But that is why it is great and has stuck with me. The name says it all really, it’s a piece of peace.
Don Rendell Ian Carr Quintet – Blue Mosque: Bit of a recurring theme with these first three, simple motifs just very well played and paced. This track was first on a Gilles Peterson compilation, Worldwide 1 maybe, along with a few other entry point tunes like Waltz for Koop and Slowly Surely (more of which later). Anyway it just stuck with me and when he dug into the Brit Jazz history bringing to light some of those guys like Stan Tracey, Neil Ardley, Michael Garrick and the rest who had been a bit forgotten this opened up a whole new world. The culmination was the kind of all stars show at the Barbican which just blew me away. Amazing musicians in love with the music even now after 50 years+ of playing. So when this came out recently on Jazzman it had to be added to the collection. Incredible record from incredible artists.
John Martyn – Couldn’t Love You More: Everyone knows Solid Air, an album you can just rinse and repeat and I did. But, One World takes the folky/jazziness of that one and turns it up a notch adding in more electronic sounds. But the songwriting underneath is still brilliant, emotionally charged and full of fire. His singing is so restrained in a way but charged with feeling. I’m not big on lyrics in songs, I don’t really pick up on the words that often but this one….
Letta Mbulu – What Is Wrong With Groovin’: Another GP classic (not the last) kicks off the Journeys by DJ he did with Norman Jay (another big one that basically turned into a wantlist). Again so much feeling and power in the voice, it almost sounds as if its topping out on the recording. Letta went on to do more straight ahead jazz and soul stuff, and Normalizo is as balearic classic, but this is just 2 and bit minutes of drama.
Emma Jean Thackray – Open: In 25 years plus of record buying I still keep an eye out for the new, despite what this tracklist may suggest and Emma Jean just totally grabbed me when I heard her last year. So heavily talented it’s frightening really, she can sing, write and play god knows how many instruments. This EP covers a few genres and Ley Lines is also worth checking out. Album en route which is already ordered. New music!
Jill Scott – He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat): Year 2000, I’ve just come back from travelling around the world, India, Nepal, Mexico, Chile….amazing but back to earth with a bump. Spend the summer living with my travel pal and working in a warehouse in Little Hulton (no Mondays in sight sadly) and this is the soundtrack. So when Gilles (who else) put on a gig at some random East End venue for Jill’s UK debut as a competition prize it had to be entered. Of course we won then had to work out getting down, skiving work (turning up the next week and them saying they didn’t think we’d be back!) to do it. Amazing gig, never forgotten.
R.A.W. – Distant Traveller: Can’t remember exactly when I first heard this, but must have been 1997/98 maybe. I can’t say I was BIG into hip hop – I did have Timberlands but drew the line at baseball caps, but I was pretty into it for a while. Whilst a student in Liverpool the likes of Soundbombing and No Fakin’ plus Zanzibar filled the gaps between techno and house (more of which later too) and this was a real tune for me from then. Just weird and different, daft lyrics about space travel, orchestral bits all over the shop really. Still sounds great, 25 years on.
Mos Def – Habitat: Having said I don’t really clock the lyrics on tunes some do stick with me and this is one. I haven’t lived where I grew up for a long time and I don’t think I have a big emotional connection to it, and then I hear this…and maybe that’s not really true. The whole album is full of tunes. You know tunes. The things that stick in your head and you can’t get rid of them. Not because they are annoying but because they are so well crafted you don’t want to forget them. I must have listened to this on repeat for about 6 months. He never bettered it but in a way I’m glad he never tried.
A Tribe Called Quest – Scenario: Hip hop can be dark, it can be dangerous but it can just be great fun (of the breeds of the genre my personal favourite) and this is right up there. Superb hook with the almost creepy baseline intro then into the chanted chorus of “here we go yo”. Oh yeah and it has Busta Rhymes on it. Possibly the best guest slot ever.
Skitz – Domestic Science: 2001 fast forward living in Leeds (student again) and this comes out, my flat mate was still in touch with his school friends and they had a night in Halifax in the basement of a pub playing hip hop, dub, reggae and the bits inbetween so maybe it was through that. Anyway one of those where you know he has knocked this together on some basic kit and got his mates round to MC on it but somehow the sound is massive and just so full of energy and brio.
Tricky – You Don’t: The whole Bristol thing was my first proper dabbling with ‘new’ music. I say that because around the same time Oasis and Blur were definitely there too, but what’s this over here, some kind of dark, soundtrack to the south west. Growing up in Plymouth, you’d think that the Bristolian spirit would be turned up more the deeper south you got, but maybe I was going to the wrong places (likely) to see it. I do know though that after hearing Tricky on Blue Lines this was the album I was waiting for.
Rae & Christian – All I Ask: Fat City, my first record shop crush. Day trips from Liverpool to my now home of Manchester (well, Stockport) for a bit of a mission to the shops would always require a trip into the Oldham Street shop. They never ‘seemed’ to have loads in but I wanted all of it. Stick on top of that the label and it was a whole world,. So many great artists like Only Child, Mr Scruff, Tony D, Andy Votel…it felt like a cottage industry but a kind of secret one once you were in the know. Huge respect to Mark Rae and Steve Christian for all they achieved with the label. Even when they shop moved to the basement in the later days it was great going in there and chatting with Darren (I think!). Then there were the BBQs…
Phil Asher Presents Focus – Having Your Fun: London 2002, broken beat is really kicking on with proper albums and all sorts. Couldn’t get enough of it (see below) not sure what it was, maybe like Tricky ten years before it was just something new and exciting. I didn’t know enough for it to remind me of anything that had come before so it was just fresh. This is probably the housier end of things, lovely dooby doos and and shuffling rather than totally broken beats, but so infectious and, yeah fun. Sad loss with Phil passing away this year, I saw him a few times and he was a spot on DJ with a huge range of productions for someone so young. Sadly missed.
New Sector Movements – Only One: Two memories with this one. First the number one broken beat tune for me from that time. Second, finding it after maybe a year of hearing it and being so happy! Although it was already well old by then. Label looks like Music and Video Exchange, could have been Soho but I think it was Notting Hill Gate branch. Anyway, memories of the saturday digging adventures in London town from early 2000s, you could pretty much go to a different area every weekend and not do them all before a new one opened. Soho was probably the favourite, it’s a cliche and not what it was anymore but Vinyl Junkies, Flying, Mr Bongo, SOTU, IF, Music and Video, Selecta Disc, Reckless…unbelievable really to have that many in one place. But then you head to Ladbroke Grove and it’s Honest Jon’s, Intoxica, Rough Trade…even Putney had/has Soul Brother a solid Friday night stop off with my mate John.
DJ Shadow – Building Steam with a Grain of Salt: It’s hard to describe what a complete game changer/eye opener/revelation(!) this was when it came out. 1996 and he was on the cover of the NME, midst of Brit pop and grunge was this. First year in Liverpool and so much eye opening music coming out. Totally new but built on old. A proper album, total trip end to end so picking one track is not straightforward but the creeping piano line on this and the drums, amazing drums make it one that sticks out.
Sofa Rockers – Sofa Surfers (Richard Dorfmeister Mix): K&D Sessions, what can I say the soundtrack to a certain period of life….just so deep and dubby and all enveloping. Such a broad reach of tunes that they took and reworked into basically new tracks then mixed them together into this journey (sorry I will try not to use that term too often) but it really was a trip.
The Congos – Can’t Come In: One of my favourite reggae albums. That is all really. Probably got into this via the guest spot on Rae & Christian’s Sleepwalking album but totally hooked. The falsetto just grabs you and is never affected just working. Oh yeah and the cover, we’re called the Congos…so here are some congos. Perfect.
Culture – Keep On Knocking: Reggae was a late arrival in the musical make up probably early University life various folks dropping bits and bobs onto the shared stereo at certain points. I was pretty late to this and can’t really remember first time I heard it but Carnival is probably a good shout. Again there’s the obvious tune on this, but I kind of love the relentlessness of this one from the start, urgent reggae if there is such a thing.
Max Romeo – One Step Forward: Now this is definitely a Carnival memory, walking down from Royal Oak tube then hearing Channel One on a side street basically playing this all the way through..back to pick it up from Intoxica the next week. We must have done Carnival every year for a good 7+ years but it’s not for everyone. I need to go back.
Al Brown – Here I am Baby: 100% Dynamite was my first foray into the world of Souljazz Records, picked up from HMV Liverpool (on CD – no decks then) it totally opened up the ska/rocksteady world along with a lesser know comp called Liquidators (you know who you are for bringing this back from Belfast) that also did the rounds back then. Each one built on the last, not sure if there’s a 400% but so many stone cold party starters on this compilation, but since we’re heading in a soul direction , this one kind of made sense.
Ann Peebles – I’m gonna tear your playhouse down: An album I just played to death. 30 minutes of pure soul emotion.
Aretha Franklin – Daydreaming: If a record ever fitted its title, it has to be this. Intro to close out it feels like a dream. Piano hook and that voice. Aretha has done so many amazing records, from the gospel power to the George Michael duet. Never putting a foot wrong. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of my heroes/legends: Terry Callier, Isaac Hayes, Martha Reeves, James Brown, Prince…but this was one that got away. Never leaving the states due to fear of flying probably didn’t help mind.
Syl Johnson – Concrete Reservation: The title track is obviously the big one and certainly cannot be denied but this track is my favourite. his voice, the yearning, strained emotion, coming out. He’s feeling this music and putting it raw onto the record. Incredible.
Isley Brothers – Ohio: So another GP tip here, but also combining two of my favourites, Neil Young and the Isleys in one place. Ohio is a great song with a message, and Neil’s version is obviously so evocative of the time, but the Isleys take it in a completely new and original direction that for me, surpasses his version. But that’s not really the end of the story because you buy an album for one tune then turns out the rest is amazing. Their cover of Fire and Rain again is above James Taylor’s for me too. One I keep going back to.
Marvin Gaye – I Heard It Through the Grapevine: My Dad had Motown Chartbusters, the one with the silver cover and I wouldn’t say he played it death, but it’s definitely an early musical memory along with Sounds of the 60’s on a Saturday morning. Motown is just unbelievable really. In the search for new and obscure music, private press and the rest, this stuff gets forgotten almost. But is this one of the greatest songs ever written? Perfect 2 and half minutes of poetry, music and drama.
Rotary Connection – Hey Love: Soul music covers a lot of music, from the stomping 45 to the psychedelic and beyond. Saying that anything that moves you is soul in my book and boy does this record. Charles Stepney’s production is so rich and complex, but never fussy or overblown. There are some obvious ones again on this, and everyone knows ‘Black Gold…’ but this swings and is so carefree, you get lost in it.
James Brown – Man in the Glass: 2002 maybe, London, overpriced flat, Sundays with no money it was Norman Jay on Radio London. A musical education every week and Soul Brother round the corner certainly helped. There is a theme here, I think, just emotionally charged voices. A probably rare moment of self reflection from Mr Brown with a killer orchestral arrangement. Whole album is underrated by the way.
Freddie Hubbard – Little Sunflower: I love songs that take you on a bit of a roaming trip with different bits to dig into. McCartney knows how to to do, not always with success but you get the idea. not just a solo but vignettes or movements that work to elevate the song from just a few verses to something else. This really epitomises that, the original instrumental is beautiful but with Al Jarreau on top it just lifts it.
Parliament – Just Got Back: As well as gigs and nights it’s mixes that stick with me for hearing stuff for the first time and the Air Essential Mix was a total revelation for me. I was heavily into the weekly show, Tongy’s intro and the rest of it. All house or maybe techno then, mixed of course. Then along come these guys and do two weeks on the bounce, 4 hours and it’s not mixed really, more a random selection of tracks. Everything was in there, I’d recommend anyone to check it, loads I had heard but so many new to me. This was one, and it has just stuck with. Merci chaps.
Mark E – Formed: So another one that combines some memories here. Firstly the obvious one, Grace. Saw her after waiting about 2 hours or something at the TDK Cross festival (or something) hoola hooping and the rest of it. Then again at Sonar where it’s safe to say she blew everyone else out of the water. On a bill with James Murphy and Orbital amongst others that was good going. La Vie en rose is probably my favourite track, so what Mark does with it, is basically make it longer (this got me into edits as something worth checking – less so these days…).
Bobby Womack – I Can’t Understand It: My favourite Bobby tune and a reminder of the legend that is Nicky Siano. The only survivor from the big 3 of NYC nightlife (Mancuso and Levan the others in case you weren’t sure) and still doing it. Homobloc highlight, still playing these records and making them feel alive.
Geraldine Hunt – Can’t Fake the Feeling: So I have to ‘fess up here, if there is one musical influence, driver, shadow even that sits over my whole taste and attitude it’s Mancuso and the Loft. And it’s not just because he didn’t mix, although I’d be lying if I said the fact he never felt it was needed to make a set has stuck with me. It’s just the freedom, the spirit it embodies for me that is always there. Play what you like, dance how you like, be who you like. I could go on, but people like Cosmo Murphy and Tim Lawrence are far better at articulating the power and grace of what the Loft and Mancuso embodied. If you don’t know, you should.
Blair – Nightlife: Kind of linked to the Loft and all that, this is just an amazing record, slow and low but deeply danceable. It’s also on this compilation from one of my favourites, BBE. Pete Adarkwah’s label is still going strong putting out fresh music and important compilations, but the run they did with these opened up a whole world to me. Purchased from Disque in Islington Market back in the London days they are still up there.
Brainstorm – Journey to the Light (Ashley Beedle edit): Another one in the disco best of and with a story to tell via the man on edit duties, Mr Ashley Beedle. Black Science Orchestra did some amazing records and he’s still knocking them out. I even met him once kind of, after sneaking in backstage at an Electric Souls event at the Edge in Frodsham and making use of the kitchen facilities. It was that kind of night.
Divine Situation – Born Again: More label love here and connections. Moton are consistently digging up and putting out edits, courtesy of various contributors, helmed by Dave Jarvis. Which brings me to Faith and before my time but still influential, Boys Own. Those guys opened up so much music to me, especially via the charts and lists – love a list. And still manage to produce interesting copy, even in this post-mag world.
Marta Acuna – Dance Dance Dance: Once my daughter asked me what my favourite record was and I told her it was this. I think it still might be.
Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King – Shame: More disco, very much a banger, very much a crowd pleaser, and a go to. Another journey song with a killer chorus and middle eight to die for.
D Train – You’re the One for Me: Whisltebump boat party, heading up the Thames, maybe sometime in 2000 and 2? The disco education continues on the poop deck with Captain Francois K dropping this as we head down river. Scenes would be a good description. 20 years on its a memory that’s still alive when I hear this record.
Gladys Knight – A Better Than Good Time: So at the age of 40 something and playing records for fun, 4 months before a pandemic hit I managed to get a semi regular paying DJ gig at a little bar called Nook. Who knows if it will reopen, who knows if I’ll get another shot. Anywhere. But I played this every time I was there. And I will play it if I ever go back.
Sylvester – Over and Over: I feel a bit of a fraud sometimes, especially on this post, trying to write meaningful, interesting words about what I consider some of the greatest music made. In my opinion, obviously. But this has to be the most party, party song ever written. At the end of a night this needs to be played. Over and over.
Soul Ascendants – Tribute: Body and Soul somewhere in Kings Cross 2001. We’d heard the compilations (another tip from a mate) and now they were coming to London. What could go wrong? Nothing in all honesty, just amazing totally captured what I wanted it to be. Brixton Academy, not so much. Which goes to prove you shouldn’t try and repeat. When they say something is greater than the sum of its parts Joe, Francois and Danny are that. Plus local lad Andi Hanley used to support them in NYC, chatted to him a few times at Cutloose, great bloke.
Unknown Artists – Palmwine Disco (Hide & Smile Edit): Again, no particular memory on this, although the Sofrito nights are on the to do list definitely. Amazing artwork and music, the full package and this is one of my favourites. Just jealous that they get to find this music, but glad they are kind of enough to share.
Ray Barretto – El Nuevo Barretto: Had to have some Latin in here. Had to and this is a killer. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert. I’m not an expert in anything! But if you want to know about soul music, you need to know about Latin music.
Velvet Season and The Hearts of Gold – El Dorado: There are labels/artists who I have made the attempt to ensure I buy on sight. VS&tHoG are one of them. Joel Martin blew me away with quiet Village, then decided to do some records with Harvey’s mate…Gerry Rooney. What could go wrong. These have great memories and evoke some of the nights at Cutloose and Wildfire last throws of the clubbing dice before the kids made it better to get an early night. Mostly.
Sweet Dick Willy – Aie (A Mwana): I like a random purchase. Sometime a punt is more fun than poring over reviews and sound clips before making a decision. This was from Vinyl Junkies, amazing basement shop in Soho. No longer with us sadly, but this is of that time. The Saturday expeditions. They still happen by the way. I just need to keep some lollipops ready for my little accomplices.
Shaun Escoffery – Days Like This (Spinna & Ticklah Mix): Southport Weekender, did it like Carnival as part of the year’s planning and execution. Actual Southport, concrete bunker chalets and all then the more salubrious Minehead. If I’m honest, the upgrade worked and took it on a notch. Anyway every year there would ‘the tune’ Gregory Porter had one (you know which one) but Shaun Escoffery’s epitomised that whole feeling. Moving between rooms and it would be playing. Tying the weekend together. Great memories and one of the best crowds out there.
Point 3 FM – Picks Me Up (Your Love): So I have to give a nod to another hero, Ross Allen. First head him standing in for Gilles probably late 90’s, same ethos but different taste. Now on NTS and one of the shows I go to. I love radio, doing it well is a still and a gift and Ross can do it. So this is a musical shout out, because he’s all about the soul.
Payfone – Paradise: You know when a label comes along and everything about it just clicks, I think I’ve mentioned this before. Repetition is a failing of mine – hands up. But Golf Channel is one of those and this record is just totally on the money. Intro, hook, bassline, drums..vocal. It was also a great geek moment to see the barbers where the cover was taken. Tick.
A Vision Of Panorama – Cascade: So I couldn’t do this compilation, monologue, history, whatever without mentioning the Aficionado lot. Label and night, run by Jason Boardman and Richard Bithell, Moonboots. I have to take this opportunity to shout out Jason because he gave me a slot at Nook. It meant a lot to me, especially from someone as steeped in the nightlife history of this city as him. They have put one some amazing nights and filled my ears with so much great music. Pretty much none of it I new before they played it. Any of their releases would be a welcome addition to this list and likewise the live acts and Djs they had on over the years. the 20 was amazing. Let’s hope it can go again. Thanks Jason:)
Parkway Rhythm – Working Girl (Dub): You know Mark Seven? Come on, surely you know Mark Seven. I think maybe I’ve seen him two or three times. He doesn’t come over from Sweden much to Manchester to play house music. But one of those nights was at Islington Mill, for 4 hours it was like NYC came to MCR. Deep, jacking, funky, sweaty, and great fun. Oh yes, should also mention he has a label that is excellent too. I also nicked his phrase for my blog. Thanks Mark.
Santos – Work the Box: Chicago house music, where things get interesting with drum machines and modern dance music begins? Or mindless repetition devoid of soul and meaning. I think you can guess where I stand on this. Too young to hear it first time. I was eight, but so what.
Daniel Wang – Like Some Dream (I Can’t Stop Dreaming): I know, another comp. I do buy the 12s I promise, but there is a reason for this double up. Firstly I bought the Balihu 12 in I don’t know 2000, so it had been out a while but so great and what an introduction. Another lost shop, of a kind, the original Soul Jazz on Ingestre Place. Part 2 is Robodisco, incredible nights at Planet K, Li’l Louis one from memory. So there you go, two for the price of one.
Etienne De Crecy – Prix Choc: That French stuff, you know, Daft Punk late 90’s Liverpool with Bugged Out in full flow at Nation they were everywhere. You could pick any number of records from that time that still hold up, but this album was the best of them for me, a proper album and very French.
Silicon Soul – Right on 4 Tha Darkness: 1999 I am done at University in Liverpool, so what next? No idea, but going to T in the Park with my Scottish mate seemed a reasonable compromise. He was good enough to introduce me to so much great music (you also know who you are mate) and that I got to see Joe Strummer at the festival was great. But before we went we had a barbecue at one of his mate’s house who happened to be DJs playing all that Scottish house that was about then, then they played this and I had to get it.
Underground Resistance – Some Times I Feel Like: More Scottish techno memories, you have the tough stuff, you have the deep, the dubby and then the out there which is kind of where I am at now. UR are a phenomenon, a force of nature completely out there on their own. I saw them! Once! more like hip hop than techno but memorable all the same.
Rhythm is Rhythm – Strings (Flam-Boy-Ant Mix): I’m being obtuse here, because I have to check Derrick May, unbelievable DJ and producer who with Blue Monday made one of those tunes. So I am not including that one, here’s the other mix. Because you need to mess about some times.
Jeff Mills – The Bells: It’s 1997, 19 years old and you hear this. In a dark room in Liverpool. Before that it was Oasis and the rest with fighting and shouting and all the worst aspects of being out on a night out. This changed everything for me. If there was one record….thanks Jeff.
House Of Spirits – Holding On: We’ve peaked, the lights are up they want to shut us down, send us home but the owner says you know what, you can play a few more….I may have mentioned the joy of radio, and Tim Sweeney is another hero so here’s a double memory, Beats in Space is no more but opened my ears and this record is just so evocative of that ethos. And it’s on his label, good luck wth the kid Tim.
Dinosaur L – Go Bang#5: Can we finish without some Arthur Russell? Of course not. It could have been ‘Is It All Over My Face’, ‘Pop Yer Funk’ or anyone of many others, but this is my favourite and this is my mix, so on it goes.
The Beatles – Got To Get You Into My Life: OK, so we finish here with where it began for me. The Beatles ‘The Rock’n’Roll Years’ the first tape I remember owning, so they had always been there from the start. I know people find them dull or it’s fashionable (sometimes?) to hate them but they are geniuses. They did it first and better. I could have picked any number of tracks, Revolver is the obvious go to, and there are deeper or more popular tracks, but this one, it just makes you smile.
Thanks for reading (if you got this far) thanks for listening. Hope you enjoyed….