The distance between love and your heart is too far beyond my imagination…

A beautiful sunny bank holiday morning, how often does that happen. eh? What better way to take advantage of it than sitting in your attic room, headphones on, surfing the Internet?

When I first started this Blog, way back when Gloucester and Arsenal weren’t the butt of jokes; when Trump was just a racist property-developer and before hucksters ruled the world (simpler times…), I used to spend quite a lot of time reading other better-informed, more dynamic Blogs. And occasionally I return to these sites just to see what’s happening, (and to scav a few tips, of course).

I went back to one of them last week, the always interesting, always revelatory Aquarium Drunkard and came across this fabulous mixtape compiled by a musician called Ahmed Gallab, known as Sinkane, and hosted by AD. It’s a wonderful selection of tracks back from Gallab’s childhood memories growing up in Sudan, which he prefaces with “Every Sudanese family has a drawer full of cassettes in their home”. All rather wonderful…

I know next to nothing about Sudan but the first few bars of the first track, by Abdelkarim Al-Kabli got me checking where exactly Sudan is, and sure enough, it borders with the capital of seventies swing and sway, Ethiopia. I’m unaware of there being an actual “Swinging Khartoum” scene but the crossovers between these tracks and all that Ethiopiques madness are obvious to hear, and I’m sure are literal as well as figurative.

Here is Mr Al Kabli, performing “Hani Ardon” (semi-) live, backed by a full string section, languid, tumbling hand percussion and his own work on the oud:

 

I know, it’s video footage with an audio soundtrack over the top, which is certainly a massive shame. Still, a treat, no? (By the way, if you go to YouTube to watch the video, the comments underneath are informative too).

My favourite track from the AD/Sinkane collection is this belter from Al Balabil, three sisters from the Wadi-Half region of the country, who became known as the Sudanese Supremes (watch it, before you scoff).

 

You see! It’s great isn’t it? I love the unhinged rhythm and the monomaniac bassline. The vocals really rock, too, stomping a careful, deliberate path between traditional ways and a raucous fifties-style rhythm and blues.

“Al Balabil” (or “Al Bilibal” as Sinkane would have it – vowel sounds are tricky when you have to move between scripts) translates as “The Nightingales”, a real Motown name, if ever I heard one. The sisters were encouraged in their career by their father and as you can imagine caused quite a stir, singing, dancing and travelling unaccompanied around the country but were apparently massively popular in Seventies Sudan before narrowing attitudes and the inevitable military coup caused the clouds to close back in and the sisters to retire. I’ve done this whole lost-in-the-midst-of-horror thing before and there’s not a whole lot more to say about it.

And I’m not going to pretend know much about them myself. But fortunately, as ever, there are people who do. There’s a great biog of the Nightingales here, which I heartily recommend (although the link to a collection is, alas, dead).

Go on, here’s some more… (This one might be even better)

Apparently, two of the sisters having moved to the USA, there are occasional trips back to Khartoum for reunions and actual dates played. Wouldn’t that be something?

In this horrible age of abuse and decay…

414779I had a disconcerting conversation with a friend a couple of weeks ago, who was able, without hesitation to tell me not only his top ten albums of all time but also his ten favourite Beatles songs. He seemed particularly surprised, scathing even, that I didn’t have the same readily to hand.

Needless to say, this has bothered me disproportionately, particularly the top ten albums thing. What exactly have I been doing with myself? I can do a top three for sure but after that, it’s all a bit sketchy…

Robyn Hitchcock

One record that should certainly be in the 3-10 category would be Underwater Moonlight by the ever-wonderful Soft Boys. Not exactly a Great record, as such, but definitely a record I come back to again and again, full of wonderful tunes and Robyn Hitchcock’s fish-eye take on the world. That combination of jingle-jangle guitar and post-punk dissonance and edge is, just, special. (I’m listening to “Queen of Eyes” as I type, a gem of a song that is as damn near perfect as makes no difference.)

The reason I’m back on the Soft Boys again this time, is that another in a substantial line of semi-official parcels of recordings has just come to my attention. Published on the by-now venerable old Blog that is Aquarium Drunkard, it’s some sort of collection of sessions and demos taken from what is apparently their very early days, but one or two of the tracks wouldn’t look out of place on Underwater Moonlight. I won’t link any here but do go to AD and take it yourself (and listen to Look Into Your Mirror nice and loud). And while you’re at it, you’d be plain daft not to have a listen to the recording of the 1980 show (proper Moonlight vintage) that I’ve just noticed he’s also offering. And, by the way, I don’t think it can be that unofficial (if this sort of thing bothers you), as it popped up on Hitchcock’s own Twitter feed…

The good news is that the Old Pervert is still alive and recording, and I believe touring the US as I write. Recently bought his Joe Boyd-produced latest record, The Man Upstairs, and it’s a little mellower, for sure, but still odd and beautifully tuneful. A mixture of originals and covers, it’s a lovely listen.

Here’s the Psychedelic Furs song, The Ghost in You:

 

 

I’ve seen Hitchcock play festivals a couple of times in the last few years and an engaging soul he is. I enjoyed his set of insect songs one balmy Green Man afternoon but the more memorable of the two was a spot he did with Joe Boyd himself, as the producer read extracts from his book. After each section, Hitchcock would sing a rough but heartfelt song from that session.

I think I’ve probably posted this before, but here’s one of them:

River Man

God bless your silvery locks, sir…

It’s been ten years…