It was No Music Day today.


Today’s Mega-Rocking Playlist

Every once in a while, I’ll be in the mood for playing music.  I do not now do it very often, despite having shelves of 12″s and LPs, and racks of CDs, most of the lie untouched.

But today I was inspired after seeing something lately on TV, not sure what it was, possibly a trailer for a programme or an advert, and it used an unfamiliar version of a familiar piece of music.  Now I thought I knew what the music was, but when I went to check it out, it turned out I had mis-remembered.

What I thought I was looking for was “Call Of Ktulu” by Metallica, which I have on their S&M live album with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra with Michael Kamen.  But while that’s good, the music I actually was seeking was “The Ecstasy Of Gold” which preceeds Ktulu, and which apparently Metallica have opened their gigs with for years.  It’s an Ennio Morricone composition from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” soundtrack.

That led me on the usual YouTube time-suck trip of the original version, which is simply splendid and I find very emotional, plus a few variants like a Nike ad version, Metallica’s recording for the “We All Love Ennio Morricone” tribute album, a live orchestral performance, and maybe some more.

Well anyway, the course was set, and I started selecting, and here’s some of what else was played:

  • Metallica “Master of Puppets” (from S&M)
  • “Jam for World In Action” (contentiously, Shawn Phillips, Jonathan Weston, Mick Weaver) (theme to World In Action)
  • Mountain “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” (theme to Weekend World)
  • various things from SoundCloud, including some dubstep, and some stuff from Max Barker.
  • Alien Levi’s “Tribute to Andy Fairley” on SoundCloud
  • Lee Scratch Perry vs The Moody Boyz “Smile” remix
  • Dre, Eminem and Skylar Gray “I Need A Doctor
  • Black Eyed Peas: “Imma Be Rockin That Body” (from the composite video of two songs)

Having mentioned BEP, I should say I’ve had a post about them brewing for two years or more, but now is not the time…

Who’s The Doctor They Told You To Go See?

Long time no see.  Lots of reasons, most of them summarized by “busyness” and “laziness”.  Whatever.

So most general modern music passes me by, I’ll hear stuff and think it’s OK, or even quite like it, but every so often, about once a year probably, there’ll be one tune I’ll hear and I’ll think “that’s the one this year”.  These days, it’s a case of hop onto Google and try and find out more about the band/song/whatever.  Maybe after hearing it for a few weeks I’ll get a bit fed up of it, but it’s the thrill of that first, maybe second, time of hearing it and feeling excited by it.

Earlier in this blog I alluded to being enchanted by LaRoux.  Other ‘instant hits’ have included Gnarls Barkley “Crazy” (the first time I heard that, I could tell it was going to be the biggest record of the year; my four-year-old at the time called it the “black dots song”, in reference to the video), Evanescence “Bring Me To Life”, Paramore “Ignorance” (although that was mostly because of an excellent acoustic performance in Radio One’s Live Lounge which I think I heard first), Electric Six “Danger! High Voltage”.  I can’t remember any more offhand.

But the first (and maybe only) one for this year is Eminem/Dr.Dre/Skylar Grey’s “I Need A Doctor”.  Heard it for the first time last week (although it has been around stateside for a while), and I knew it was the business.  The rap itself is a fairly run-of-the-mill retrospective thing, Dre and Eminem looking back with some bitterness at the past, and the title is a reflection of a line from a previous one, “Forgot About Dre”:

And when your album sales wasn’t doin too good who’s the Doctor they told you to go see?

But I largely lost interest in rap sometime in the early ’90s (I’m well old skool, me), so I’m not much bothered about that part.  It’s the chorus hook that really captures my attention:

I’m about to lose my mind,
You’ve been gone for so long,
I’m running out of time.
I need a doctor, call me a doctor,
I need a doctor, doctor, to bring me back to life.

(Read more: http://www.killerhiphop.com/eminem-i-need-a-doctor-lyrics-dr-dre/)

I’ve always been a sucker for simple couplets and short repeated rhymes.  Trouble Funk were masters of it in their live shows in the mid ’80s, but they inherited a heritage of crowd-play call-and-response from the funk cats of the 60s and 70s.  Gary Clail made a career out of toasting them over Tackhead and Dub Syndicate, although it was Mark Stewart who wrote most of the ones he used.

Back to those songs then, I make two observations.  One, is that almost all of them have a strong female vocal (also counting Gnarls Barkley as Cee Lo Green sounds almost like a girl sometimes!).  It’s Skylar Grey in the case of the Dre song, and you can use Google as well as I can to find out more about her.  I do like a strong female vocal, but I think it just happens to be co-incidence that those are the ones I picked as examples.

The other observation is that the ones I have mentioned are all mainstream tunes.  Anyone looking at my record collection will know that I generally don’t buy commercial things, but have all sorts of obscure stuff (actually, I rarely buy any “new music” these days, it’s mostly retro stuff if at all).  But maybe that’s the thing … the ones I’ve singled out are ones that I’ve heard on the radio and they hit me.  There are equally good things in the obscure depths of my record collection (yes real, heavy vinyl on sturdy shelves), but they aren’t things I’ve passively heard on the radio in general, they are things I have sought out bought because I like the artist or the label or whatever, so the impact is different.  Audio Active’s Electric Bombardment Remix is a slammin’ thing, but I don’t recall hearing it on Radio 1 back in the day …

Finally, back to “I Need A Doctor”; you might also find the Grammys performance on YouTube.  I have mixed feelings about that.  The first part is a performance with Rhianna and Eminem of their “Love The Way You Lie”.  Not too bad a song, but not a great vocal from the R-girl on this occasion.  That song ends, and then it is straight into Skylar’s chorus, and pretty much the whole of the Dre song.  The performance is faithful to the record, and well-executed live, but here are my problems with it (based on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ArnU95eJXM — warning, this is taken from a foreign TV re-broadcast and doesn’t silence what’s left of the slightly naughty words unlike the domestic US broadcast):

1. Poor sound mix; the vocals are rather lost in the music, and you hardly hear Eminem at the start

2. God-awful truncated ending.  Why even bother, when you could complete the chorus and just let the piano repeat and fade …

3. The blend of the two songs could have been so better managed, rather than just ramming them end-on-end next to other.  Maybe the Grammy music director should take notes from The Brits, who have mastered the art of combining two or three songs/artists/performances in various fascinating, and unlikely, ways.  In the case of LTWYL’s ending around 2:50, it would have been so easy to have the second song’s piano playing a simple melody through the last part of R-girl’s vocal), and into Skylar’s opening chorus.

Taken as a performance as a whole, if you aren’t familiar with the Dre song (so you don’t see it coming), then the simple re-appearance of Eminem (who you might have thought was done as R-girl finishes her song) after the opening chorus is magical.  Actually, I find it magical even if you do know its coming.  Reprises are good.  Long live the version and the reprise.  Another post in there, perhaps.

I need a doctor, call me a doctor,
I need a doctor, doctor, to bring me back to life.

Human Beatboxing – Jimmy Castor?

Back in the old days of Radio Lancashire’s “On The Wire” programme (see earlier post), Steve had lots of carts (Wikipedia, Repflug, The Cart Guys) with sound effects, drops, fillers, jingles, theme tunes and other such radio audio paraphernalia.

For years and years through the 80s and 90s they were stored in a large box in the studio with a bit of paper plopped on top of them “On The Wire carts”.  I last worked on the programme regularly in 1999, and before I left I took copies of most of them, which I transferred to minidisc.  At some point after then, I think, the box was lost or whatever, and times change and in this digital age the studios don’t even have physical cart machines of the like of the Sonifex any more (although the ancestry remains in the digital replacement: the computer application often presents a “cart wall”).

Anyway, back to the matter in hand.  Many of the drops were taken off records, and there was one in particular I asked Steve about one time.  It’s a human beatbox thing, that goes on for about 40 seconds.  Now Steve reckoned it was from a Jimmy Castor record, but if it is, I haven’t found it yet.  But at least one other one that we used certainly was: the intro to Bertha Butt Boogie (“Bom bom, bobba-dom, baaaa bom-bom bom, bobba-dom”).  If you listen to some of the other track excerpts on Jimmy Castor’s discography website, you might recognise several others: King Kong, It’s Just Begun, and so on.  Many are listed on the web pages.

But I’m still stuck on identifying my 40 seconds of human beatbox.  A dirty copy of it is here.  “Yam *phh*-*phh*, yam *phh* *phh*; Yam *phh* *phh*, yam *phh* *phh* …)

Denver lyrical

A few days ago I was discussing the odd lyrics to an old 80s Radio One jingle.  While I was poking around on t’Internet (in fact to listen to the JAM Song again), I found reference to the package from which presumably that Radio One jingle originated, which was produced for KIMN Denver.  You can hear it here, the lyrics are:

“Show me a show you can hear at D.U.,
Washington Park and even the zoo;
Show me a show that’s the best show of all,
And I’ll show you the best show in Denver.
The best show in Denver, KIMN!”

As a sidenote, it is always odd to hear old familiar radio jingles with different lyrics for different stations: the nature of the jingle business is (was) that a package gets written for a client (or maybe no client in particular), and then is available to be re-sung for other stations that might want it.

Glasgow lyrical

Who remembers this:

“Send a request we can play on the air,
From Cardiff, Belfast or Glasgow Square;
Ask for a song that’s the best in the world,
And we’ll play it just for you.
The best sound in Britain, Radio One!”

Although who knows what “Glasgow Square” is supposed to be; there is no place of that name.  I suppose they could mean George Square which is in the city centre, but I suspect it was just a case of finding a rhyme.

Of course the other famous mention of Glasgow in a song is from Abba, in Super Trouper:

“I was sick and tired of everything,
When I called you last night from Glasgow;
All I do is eat and sleep and sing,
Wishing every show was the last show.”

Writing in The Telegraph, Neil McCormick appears not to be enamoured with this lyric:

“Has any song used a reference to “Glasgow” less convincingly than Super Trouper, where it is shoe-horned in just to rhyme with “last show”?”

On The Wire – 25th Anniversary – press release

From:  Steve Barker
Date: Thu, 27 Aug 2009
Subject: On the Wire – 25th Anniversary


On Saturday 19th September 2009, between 10pm and 2am, BBC Radio Lancashire’s “On the Wire” show will celebrate 25 years of continuous weekly broadcasting as the longest running alternative show on British radio.

For the past 25 years Steve Barker has produced and presented On the Wire,
which was first broadcast on 16th September 1984. (Check Radio 1’s playlists
for that month compare and contrast).  Way back then there was no such thing as ‘dance’ music – hip-hop was confined to NYC and LA – and the UK was in the grip of the New Romantics. Smashy and Nicey still ruled at ‘Fab FM’ and the London dance mafia were still with their mums shopping for shells. Reggae was apparently dead.

On The Wire’s first guests were Adrian Sherwood – who provided its now legendary theme tune – and collaborator Keith le Blanc, who had earlier launched the ‘sampledelic’ hip-hop classic, “Malcolm X” on the world via Tommy Boy. The following week Depeche Mode turned up in the studio, and  then in December a three hour live special was broadcast with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – still fresh from torching the Black Ark a couple of years earlier.

And so it went through the eighties as On The Wire slowly built a reputation beyond Lancashire and the North West, throughout the UK and onwards – before the internet – via cassette to the outer reaches, Greece, Sweden, Australia,Italy, USA. The show was fairly expansive: releasing a compilation, “Bugs On The Wire”; putting on The Fall – a free gig at Clitheroe Castle when 2,500 people and one policeman turned up; a Xmas party at the Ritz in Manchester featuring Adrian Sherwood with Gary Clail, 808 State, A Guy Called Gerald, Little Annie plus a heavily pregnant Neneh Cherry absconding from a Bomb the Bass gig.

On the Wire saw the first radio plays for in the UK for numerous artists and bands, including Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson as well as specific tracks such as 808 State’s “Pacific State” and A Guy Called Gerald’s “Voodoo Ray”. As  the nineties turned, OTW was under threat from inside the BBC, but at the last minute the show was saved by the BBC board pegging the show as “a unique BBC product”.

For the last 7 years Steve has contributed from Beijing with the invaluable help of Jim Ingham co-producer in Blackburn, the indefatigable local  commentator Michael ‘Fenny’ Fenton, plus American exile and co-founder of the China-based nu electronic unit fm3, Christiaan Virant. Steve now DJs out in Beijing and Shanghai, and recently played the Big Chill festival in the UK. Steve has been the dub columnist for The Wire magazine for the past decade.

On the Wire’s celebration show:

The celebrations for the show will include mixes from friends far and near who have contributed to the show over the years, including:

  • Mick Sleeper from Toronto, controller of the net-based show Radio Scratch, exclusively featuring the work of the legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry both as artist and producer (http://www.upsetter.net/)
  • Pete Holdsworth from the world’s premier reggae revival label Pressure Sounds based in the UK and Japan (www.pressure.co.uk)
  • Alan Bishop from the Seattle based label Sublime Frequencies (www.sublimefrequencies.com) a collective of explorers dedicated to acquiring and exposing obscure sights and sounds from modern and traditional urban and rural frontiers via film and video, field recordings, radio and short wave transmissions, international folk and pop music, sound anomalies, and other forms of human and natural expression not documented sufficiently through all channels of academic research, the modern recording industry, media, or corporate foundations.
  • Stephen Hitchell from the Detroit based label Echospace (www.echospacedetroit.com) one of America’s finest imprints currently setting the bar for dub-influenced techno worldwide.
  • Steve Goodman aka the London-based DJ Kode9, and owner of the influential Hyperdub record label. Steve holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Warwick and recently worked at the University of East London as a lecturer in media production, and course tutor for a master’s programme in sonic culture April 2004 (www.hyperdub.net)
  • Steve Hardstaff aka Jahcuzzi, the North West’s most prolific creator of record album art. He recently had his work collected in a book published jointly by the University of Chicago and John Moore’s University in Liverpool, he was one of the Peter Blake’s assistants for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album artwork.
  • Rob Ellis aka Bristol’s DJ Pinch, and owner of the label Tectonic Recordings, will be presenting a history of drum and bass music from the city that spawned so many artists who based their music and success on dub and reggae (www.myspace.com/tectonicrecordings)
  • David Toop author of definitive books on both rap and ambient music (Rap Attack and Ocean of Sound) and musicologist extraordinaire will taking time off from writing an opera to offer a special mix (www.davidtoop.com/)
  • Steinski aka Steve Stein and his pal Doug DiFranco (aka Double Dee) were hip-hop producers who achieved notoriety in the early 1980s for a series of underground hip-hop sample-based collages known as the Lessons. Although they never had a hit record, they proved highly influential for hundreds of subsequent artists both in hip hop and wider field of sound art. (www.steinski.com)
  • Noel Hawks is perhaps best known for his authoring of hundreds of well informed sleeve notes since the start of the revival reggae business. A long time collaborator of On the Wire, Noel will be contributing a mix of personal favourites.
  • Ashley Beedle is the man who introduced house music to the Notting Hill Carnival, founder of the Black Science Orchestra and The Ballistic Brothers, record-label owner of Soundboy Entertainment, Afroart, and Ill Sun. He recently recorded an album with reggae legend Horace Andy.
  • Beijing-based Yan Jun, works in the realm of sound and language manipulating feedback, drones, voice and field recordings for site-specific sound installations, improvisations and environmental sound. He founded the Sub Jam and its sub-label KwanYin Records. He has run the weekly event Waterland Kwanyin and annual festival Mini Midi in Beijing since 2005 and published five essay collections on Chinese new music and three poetry collections.

For more information please contact Steve Barker steve.barker@bbc.co.uk or Jim Ingham jim.ingham@bbc.co.uk.

Update 5thSep: Now confirmed, legendary producer Adrian Sherwood from On-U Sound will be live in the studio to join the celebrations.