Babies are learning how to shout!

Image result for WITCH zambia

I’ve just spent a very happy Sunday afternoon down a musical wormhole on YouTube, and if you can suggest a better way to spend your afternoon off, I’d be happy for you to give me directions.

Zamrock!

During this last week, rummaging haphazardly through all the music on my hard disk, I chanced upon this masterpiece of naïve seventies wah-wah by Zambian band The Peace. I’m an absolute slobbering galoot for anything like this (as I suspect you know), packed as it is with promenading guitars, hip-shaking righteousness and twangy finger-pointing. It’s truly a blessing.

Avail yourselves:

I’m sorry to report that I can find no YouTube footage of the actual band or indeed of any of their contemporaries from Seventies Zambia. At first thought, this is no surprise, until you consider the volume of Ethiopian and Somali music from the same decade there is online. I suspect this is because the similarities between the garage punks of the US and the more Hendrix-y Zambian bands of the Seventies, meant that they were never as close to the mainstream as their East African counterparts

There are however, a series of documentaries about the “Zamrock” scene of the time which do include some live footage and some really charming interviews. They were prompted I’d imagine by Now-Again Records’ excellent pair of compilations which has led me into this very pleasant afternoon’s reverie.

Watch this, and you’ll know as much as I do about the whole movement:

[“Rock’n’Roll is three chord stuff, it’s simple music… but we’re having fun. I’m getting paid for it!” – the world over, my friend.]

All of the bands mentioned are part of the Now-Again compilations, and I’ll put you on notice that if I can get my shit together, there’ll be at least an Amanaz post appearing on these pages during half-term.

The band not mentioned so much in here are WITCH (“We intend to cause havoc”), who, featured members of The Peace and I think, these days, might be the most well-known of all the Zambian bands of the era, still gigging as they do.

We’re lucky to have this wonderful 40-minute performance of original WITCH members Emanyeo “Jagari” Chanda and Patrick Mwondela breezing through a live performance in the Boiler Room from 2017, backed by a series of foppishly clad dudes, one of whom is Dutch psych-student Jacco Gardner.

It’s irrepressible, irresistible, irreproachable stuff!

At first, I was a bit cynical about the presence of these earnest young lads (until you hear the wah-wah and how stompingly good they are) but then it becomes more than a little poignant when you realise that in  common with all these crate-digging posts – the rest of the original band members are just no longer with us.

In another video, there’s a very sad clip of Jagari Chanda recalling the sheer number of his co-musicians and bandmates who were taken by the appalling AIDS epidemic that Africa continues to experience…

“I’m not saying I’m clever. I’m not saying I’m clever that’s why I’m alive, no. It’s not that my friends were careless, were reckless, but they were living in self-denial. And then also they did not have means to go to good hospitals and see proper doctors to tell them what to do, but looking at the number of people that died who by now would have been making different music, who would’ve matured, musically. But unfortunately, it was not to be…”

My favourite track of the Boiler Room session is “Toluka” which is an absolute joy (particularly if like a bit of wah-wah). Surrender to the cowbell and thank your lucky Sunday afternoon stars…

Selfish one, why keep your love to yourself?

There’s something uniquely dispiriting about seeing your home team dicked again by a team of journeymen in a cavernously empty ‘Holm of rugby.

No one there to see it, except a TV audience of millions. I’m really fed up of all this…

Stick some music on.

Boddie Recordings

The Boy somehow magiked up this quite wonderful boxset for me as a Christmas present (“It was easy – I just Googled ‘weird shit’”), which is a gorgeously garage-y soul collection from sixties and seventies Cleveland, full of rough, earnest classics that no one ever heard. Listen…

(I love the line about each record taking a full four minutes to create…)

There’s something quite heroic about Thomas Boddie’s exploits – by day repairing organs and by night recording over 10,000 hours of music and running a label with his wife for over 20 years, “his prices the lowest in town”.

BODDIE RECORDING COMPANY: Amazon.co.uk: Music

From listening to this, it’ll not be a surprise that the collection is something of a mixed bag of ragged and earnest recordings by bands that never made it or never really were it in the first place. But, believe me, there are some beauties and some belters here. The track that plays beneath the opening to the video is “The Pusher” by a group of hopefuls known (by transcription error) as the Inter Circle. The liner notes refer to Boyce Walker Jr’s guitar as “porn-whisked” which I rather like, but the cluttered, overexcited drumming is also something to behold. Created as a dark “tribute” to a local anti-hero, its B-side is similarly themed and titled “The Players”. It’s just as grimy but dominated by a rich, florid organ sound and swings like a pimp’s bellbottoms.

But really the whole collection is full of this sort of thing – an impressive 3-cd or 5-LP stash, packaged beautifully and blessed with more coverage of the obscure hopefuls behind each record than they ever will have received in their day.

In stark contrast to their white punk counterparts of the day, I can find absolutely no video content of any of the bands in the collection, which is a rotten shame. There are the studio recordings but no actual footage, so you might as well go to the Bandcamp page to stream the whole boxset (I’d recommend both the blistering Creations Unlimited tracks there, at the very least).

When you do, you might notice that although the CD set is currently sold out, there’s an intriguing six-track acetate collection, of three completely unknown artists who wandered in, cut a pair of tracks each and disappeared (in every sense – the Boddie record-keeping seems to have been a little … haphazard).

Love this track, all the more tragic for its impenetrable obscurity…

It’s like a souvenir that just sits on the shelf…

And here comes a man with a paper and a pen…

In a lost hour cruising the neon interstates of YouTube, last night, I came across this.

(I was tempted to say I ‘d been stalking coming, new bands, attempting to retrieve an already battered reputation for being “relevant” – although God knows what that means these day.

But alas, no, I was looking for Del Shannon videos… more of him later.)

Anyway watch this:

I’ve loved this song since reading the chapter on the Band in “Mystery Train”. Marcus called it possibly their best song and on the back of it I went out and bought the Brown Album. I’d say it’s probably my favourite Band song of them all but I’d have to caveat that because the scarcely believable truth is that there are two or three other songs on that whole remarkable album that are right up there with it.

I also learned yesterday that Eric Clapton flew out to Big Pink after hearing the first album to meet the band. The story is that, already bored of Cream, he was actually looking to inveigle his way into the group, if necessary as a second guitarist. Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the log cabin wall as Clapton rocked up in his pink bellbottom jeans wanting to meet the men behind Music from the Big Pink and the partially emerging Basement Tapes?

“And so I went up to jam with them, and I show up with all this paraphernalia on, the guys are all in work clothes, and I thought, well, are we going to jam? They said, ‘We don’t jam, we write songs and play the songs.’”

To their eternal credit, Clapton didn’t really penetrate such a tightly-knit group of workmen-musicians (he later said they were like members of the Hole in the Wall Gang) and I like to believe that as far as they were concerned, he just didn’t really cut it. I’m not sure I care to imagine what would have become of the Band with a feckless superstar like Clapton in their midst and I’m hugely appreciative that their sanctity was preserved.

We’d never have had anything like this, for sure.

And there’s so much to love about it, from Richard Manuel’s suffering vocals, a pitiful call from the heart of old America to Robertson’s fierce, wiry guitar outro (although, remarkably, it’s still not quite the match of his lithe, weary recorded version); from Levon Helm’s splendid, sinewy drumming (incredible to think that at times he effectively shared the drumming duties with Manuel) to Garth Hudson’s emphatic flicking of the last switch on his organ as the song finishes. And those dark, looming chorus lines…

Happy Sunday everyone…

Lime and limpet green…

Well, it was already a bit shit, wasn’t it?

But somehow the sight of that gurning pantomime dame announcing the demise of Christmas 2020 has really put the nail in the coffin.

Let’s get high…

The Pink Floyd

On a grimy, pasty afternoon this week, I put this on again for the first time in ages and I was immediately gripped by what a strange, adolescent piece of garish psychedelia it was. I’d forgotten just how damn exciting it is.

I could not begin to imagine what it must have sounded like to a largely unprepared population at large. But then a quick search of YouTube, turns up this:

Apart from the only clip I can find online of Syd performing his song (and clearly, therefore, brilliant), it does do a pretty good job of showing the blank incomprehension of an ill-equipped public, embodied by a by-no-means hostile, though clearly not where-it’s-at Hans Keller (“I don’t want to prejudice you against them, but four quick points I want to make…”)

The whole filming of a song about psychedelic exploration in black and white is also rather symbolic of the general unreadiness of the BBC, Robert Robertson and Hans Keller for what they were witnessing.

(I’m also very keen on the whole “The Pink Floyd” thing…)

The interview afterwards is great fun too, with Roger Waters and Syd Barrett displaying the nerdiest of cut-glass accents, but still managing to look and sound like oiks next to Herr Keller. I can’t bring myself to dislike Keller – he’s just simply from another age. It’s bizarre to think that at the time of the interview, he’s only 47 – an age I myself look back at wistfully…

This is my favourite part of the whole weird exchange

Keller: I happen to have grown up in a string quartet which is a bit softer… so why has it got to be so loud?

Water: Well I don’t guess it has to be, but I mean that’s the way we like it, but we didn’t grow up in a string quartet and I guess that could be one of the reasons.

There’s also this version online, which is live and was filmed sometime after Syd had gone missing, but which is possibly even more exciting. It’s poorly edited, a bit trebly and has been cut clumsily in a couple of places; but still the energy of Waters and particularly Nick Mason behind his kit, really owns the song. In my sloppiness, I’d always associated the arrival of Dave Gilmour with the point at which the band lost their groovy “The” and moved onto grown-up Rock.

Clearly, I’m an idiot.

Hit it!

Having regained the keys to the creepy old coop that is Bebop and American Jazz, I continue to have a rather jolly old time, careening up and down the dust-laden corridors, bursting into chambers and ransacking the wardrobes and dressers within.

One day, I’ll have to approach this in a more methodical and altogether grown up fashion (and will no doubt be much the better for it), but for now I’m thoroughly enjoying haphazardly opening drawers and picking out whatever takes my fancy.

This, for instance…

Pithecanthropus Erectus

The thrumming stand-up bass of Charlie Mingus is one of Life’s great irresistible sounds, always, and this record has been fun to explore. I picked it up in my dying days at eMusic and as with many of those purchases haven’t really done it justice until now.

The title track is the stand out pick, brimming as it is with playfully chaotic ideas and a captivating charm, but the whole record is apparently a significant one. Released in 1956, (the year after Miles Davis formed his first quintet and engaged Coltrane), Mingus abandoned his normal practice of meticulously compiled sheet music and taught each part to his band by ear. If you remember that mesmeric, impenetrable picture of Coltrane’s Giant Steps pieces put to paper, this makes some sense, but was apparently ground-breaking at the time.

(Can’t help thinking of Beefheart whistling and pounding the piano lid incoherently to a bewildered Drumbo a decade later – it all comes back to Beefheart, even when it doesn’t).

Anyway:

The liner notes claim that that the title track is a tonal poem (I looked it up, I’m none the wiser…) dedicated to the ascent and descent of mankind, which sounds to these post-punk ears more than a little pretentious. But maybe in those innocent pre- Roger Dean days, it didn’t sound quite so silly. And, for sure, there’s no navel-gazing on this record, just an insistent, self-aware strut – an ode to Man who has not only learnt to stand on two legs and walk but to promenade up and down the avenue, tipping his hat to the ladies and flipping dimes to the shoeshine.

The stagger into chaos part is not really a dark descent but a rather splendid going-to-seed, as Jackie McLean honks and yowls from the side-lines only gradually does Mingus’s bassline stumble and eventually disintegrate over the course of ten glorious, disorderly minutes.

If you think about some of the painful, apocalyptic howls that Coltrane and various other free-jazz souls would put to record only a few years later, this is all a bit naïve and much more fun for it. It’s not exactly rough beasts slouching towards Bethlehem, more like Thomas O’Malley and Scat Cat crashing through floor after floor of their own run-down Parisian mansion.

I can’t find anything from this line-up on YouTube but I did stumble across this wonderful clip from 1960 with an entirely different and perhaps more well-known band. It’s well worth watching. From the get-go, there’s a good six minutes of Bud Powell on piano which is quite the thing in itself but it also allows you to watch and hear Mingus, at the coalface in his busy workshop, without the more powerful brass section taking over.

Until they do, which is also pretty damn remarkable (if only for the magnificently goateed Eric Dolphy’s evening suit / sandals combo). Hit! It!

Choose Freedom!

Rather than raise your eyebrow quizzically at this, a second post in a month, think of this more as a faltering Part Two to last week’s post about the wonderful Mogadisco record that you’re all getting for Christmas this year.

This is an absolute banger from the same record.

Bakaka Band / Dur Dur Band

Just lend an ear to the lumbering bass line that sprawls all over the vocals and off-beat reggae sound of this track. You’ll be hooked in no time at all.

I’ve said “reggae” but as I am thinking about it, it occurred to me that it’s kinda like an idea of reggae that someone once read about in a book, or heard rumours of and thought they’d have a bit of lash at, without having heard the original.

[It turns out that interpretation is a little crass (who’da thunk…?) – the Dhanto rhythm from the north of Somalia is apparently remarkably similar to the Jamaican bluebeat.]

Be that as it may, that monstrous bassline is the thing that jumps out straight away but the brass riff is also something of a collar-grabber and it’s hard to ignore the I-Threes style girlgroup in the background, not so much complimenting Shimaali Ahmed Shimaali’s lead vocals as much as leading him by the nose through the song.

The Bakaka Band (for it is they) were one of the state-sponsored outfits that were a result of Siad Barre’s extravagant policy of promoting Somali culture as inspiration during the war with Ethiopia of the late-seventies, which often led to them playing dates on the frontline itself. The title of this track itself translates as “Choose Freedom!”

After the war, the band were left in limbo and gradually transformed themselves into the Dur Dur Band. Vocalist Shimali took the Dhanto songs, but for their other directions they used the beautiful Sahra Dawo and a second male vocalist known as Baastow (his nickname apparently derived from the Somali word for “pasta”, with some sort of connection to his languid style).

There are quite a lot of clips of the Dur Dur Band on YouTube (and they’re now the subject of an Analog Africa compilation – which is ace) but the best one, I reckon is this one. Forty six minutes of quivering, Somali funk that is somehow complimented by the less-than-perfect quality of the original VHS. The other Bakaka Band track on the Mogadisco collection is much more like this.

It’s actually some sort of collection of TV performances, mangled a little by the recorder (God love him, whoever he was) but all the more beguiling for it. It’s far from clear what all the songs are, let alone the musicians, but I’m pretty sure the female vocalist heavily featured in the first half will be Sahra Dawo and that by half way through we’re being treated to the spaghetti-limbed stylings of Baastow.

Throughout, the Dur Dur Band are superb, rock solid and as loose-limbed and horizontal as the recordings suggest, with the rhythm section standing out, delicately embroidered by the frailest of electric guitars. Even the trees seem to sway along…

If you can’t make it through the whole forty minutes (and frankly, if you can’t, we need to talk…), I’d at least suggest you skip onto 37:50 where Baastow (resplendent in custard-yellow shirt and slacks) is crudely cut off and the Sharero Band, complete with a troupe of abrasive chanteuses, begin to hove into view (through a hedge). The lead vocalist looks to me a little like Fadumo Qasim, but who knows? It’s a massive treat you can’t afford to deny yourself….

Heady, exotic stuff.

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