Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


Over the last few years I have had moments when I have become quite obsessed with Guy Warren.
In this age of instant Internet information access there is something elusive about him.
His earlier, 'exotica' records are quite easy to come by. I think that is in part because they are seen as exotica rather than jazz. His later records where he teams up with Amancio D'Silva amongst others are much harder to turn up.
Warren, or Ghanaba, as he was later known, remarkably played with ET Mensah in the Accra, then with Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists in London (although I do not think he was recorded) and then with Charlie Parker in New York (again unfortunately not recorded due to the untimely death of Bird). He appears on landmark recordings by Ian Carr and Don Rendell and one of his songs appears on Bert Kaempfert's Swingin' Safari. What a resume!
I think this quote from Max Roach in 1974 shows how important he was: "I met Ghanaba in Chicago in 1956.... Ghanaba was so far ahead of what we were all doing that none of us understood what he was saying - that in order for Afro-American music to be stronger, it must cross-fertilize with its African origins.... We ignored him. Seventeen years later, Black Music in America had turned to Africa for inspiration and rejuvenation, and the African sound of Ghanaba is now being imitated all over the United States, where ever Afro-American music is played."
I also like this description of him by Ian Carr: "A few months later we had met the African percussionist Guy Warren when we worked with him on one of his own LPs, and the experience had been very stimulating. He played everything from talking drums to maracas, cowbells, Indian bells, gourd, bamboo flute, harmonica and tambourine - but more than his music, his attitude to music, his dress, his uninhibited manner seemed to epitomise a completely and refreshingly opposite approach to jazz. The Rendell-Carr Quintet wore dark suits and primly knotted ties and could have merged into almost any respectable background; our clothes seemed to symbolise the conservatism and safety of our music. But Guy never wore Western clothes. His shaven head would be covered by a black fez or else a kind of straw pith-helmet; over a white African gown he sometime wore a black cape, sometimes a leopard skin. And he always wore dark glasses."
In many ways I think that his music was, as Roach says, so far ahead of his time that he was really waiting for the advent of free-jazz so that his forceful, rhythmic, evolving and fascinating percussion work could be properly accompanied.
He gets close to achieving it on this album. One might not think that a guitar would be the perfect foil to his waves of beat but in fact D'Silva is his perfect partner - perhaps making a connection back to his Ghanaian highlife days. The partnership is still perfect when D'Silva switches to electric bass on African Dance No. 4 producing a very eerie, deep sliding noise that matches the jiggering staccato drums.
Dick Heckstall-Smith provided sax and flute support. He is understated and complimentary and at no point tries to upstage the show although he gets a chance to let rip on African Dance No 2 and plays some wonderfully honking squealing sax.
For those not used to percussion led music this record may, at times, seem repetitive and lacking in melody or very much in the way of song structure. But I urge you to listen again. Perhaps, given the rise of dance music, prominent drums will not seem as strange today as they did when this record was first released. Don't listen as you would listen to an orchestra. Rather listen as though you are feeling the music. Listen as though the music is for a party and is asking you to take part.I think that this is music to envelope the listener, music to try and take over the listener. Its not entirely jazz, its not entirely highlife or traditional African music. Its a wonderful amalgam of all of these. African Soundz indeed.
He also wrote an autobiography called I Have A Story to Tell and, even though I have looked for it in the British Library I can find no evidence of it anywhere!

Monday, 13 December 2010


It's nearly Christmas so I thought I'd add a Christmas record.
Having said that I'm not really sure how Christmas-y this record it. Despite the title there is nothing really very Christmas-like about this library record.
If you are looking for strange electronic noises that are made to approximate the sounds of animals this is the record for you. If, on the other hand, you want something that sounds like carols then look elsewhere.
Roger Roger and Nino Nardini were electronic pioneers and in much the same way as Jean Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley they found it difficult to find a wide audience. In fact most of their recorded output, together or seperately, is on library records.
Think Radiophonic Workshop but on the farm rather than in space and you have an idea of the kind of sounds that these guys are making here.
I am always amazed at the breadth of music that appeared on library records. What film or TV programme would need an electronic horse noise or a song using bleeting bionic sheep noises?  Maybe they appeared on French children's programmes? Or maybe they were used as cues for some kind of space-age Animal Farm? Or maybe not.
The propensity for early electronic music to be used in a funny setting meant that lots of early moog, electronic or radiophonic tracks have a kind of cartoon quality to them. You can see that they would make very good background to Tom and Jerry comedy violence. An early JJ Perrey track was even picked up by Disney and used at Disneyland. Perhaps it still is.
I found this languishing in the Christmas section of Oxfam and would have flicked past it had I not been intrigued by the children's writting on the front and the back. I am not sure who Sophie and Cathy were but I like to think they were the daughters of either Mr Roger or Mr Nardini. "This album is dedicated to all my little friends, the animals of the world" it says on the back.
A slightly daft record all in all but you would have to be a very hard hearted person not to find it funny. See if you can find it in amongst the Christmas records.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Exploito-psych #1 The Id and The Animated Egg

The Animated Egg - S/T
The Id - The Inner Sounds of the Id

Picture the scene. Perhaps we are in Utah, or in Dorset or maybe in Cologne. A teenage boy is in a supermarket with his mother. There by the cash register is a display of records. Light orchestral stuff in the main or Beer Drinking Songs or Polka Hits. Suddenly his attention is drawn to one of the records. It has a young woman on the front in bright clothes, even better she has large breasts. It looks as though it might be 'cool' and somehow connected to that psychedelic stuff that the boy has heard so much about but which seems so far away. Even better it is so cheap that his mother is happy to buy it for him. When he finally gets it on the turntable, does it deliver on its promises of wild unfettered drug-addled freakiness? What do you think?

Welcome to the world of exploito-psych records.

As the counter-culture became increasingly prominent business minds of all types came up with ways to turn it into profit. As most of these minds had no intention of being 'turned-on' the products they produced bore little, if any, relation to what was really happening. Films like Mary Jane, Psych-Out, Teenage Rebellion or Wild in the Streets were reflections of how male middle aged, middle-America saw the counter-culture.

The same was true in music. Records were produced that tried to be hip and weird and inadvertently some were very good. However, you were just as likely to find a re-titled surf tune, or a soul tune lifted from an earlier exploitation record or perhaps a rock and roll number. Or you may just find that it was the same tune that you had already heard on a previous exploito record.

The story of Jerry Cole and the production of the Animated Egg is well known.Click here

And so is the story of DL. Miller and Al Sherman. Click here and here

Jerry Cole worked on a number of Rock/Surf/Hot Rod albums for the Bihari brother's Crown label in the early sixties. Although these were often produced in the space of a few days all of them contain some real nuggets of pure adrenalin fueled instrumental guitar action. Perhaps not as wild as Davie Allan's stuff a few years later but great stuff nontheless. Although he was a successful session guitarist Cole continued producing records for budget labels until the end of the sixties.
By 1967 he decided to break away from session work and move into a 'real' band.
Together with some of his friends who were also session musicians he formed the Id.

The Id never really clicked with the record buying public. However, their manager did a runner with the season tapes. Outtakes from the Id recording then went on to become the Animated Egg.
You can only imagine the look on the faces of Miller and Sherman when they were given the opportunity to put out some genuinely great music. Not so much an Animated Egg but a golden egg. The Id outtakes that appear on this record have been eq-ed within an inch of their lives and sound all the better for it.
So much did Miller and Sherman love this record that they released it in the UK on the Marble Arch label, in the US on their Crown Label and in Europe on Europa.
Plus they re-edited, repackaged and generally played around with the songs so as to squeeze the most out of them. Over an irregular number of posts, we will be following what happened to these songs, where they appeared and how they were changed. And we might also have a few digressions into other exploito records and some exploito sleeves that sufered the same recycling fate.


I like sitar-jazz records. There is something about the collision of two disparate forms of music that intrigues me, as it no doubt intrigued those who made them.
As far as I can gather traditional sitar playing does not have room for improvisation. It is built up of layers of cyclical playing, ragas, that can be as forumlaic as western classical music.
This record was released in 1968 while the John Mayer/Joe Harriot Indo-Jazz Fusions record came out in 1965. As such it was not a ground-breaking record.
It also differs from the Harriot/Mayer record in that none of the musicians are from India. As such this is not so much a meeting of two different musical cultures but more the use of a set of musical devices and instruments by a group of jazz trained musicians.
And there is nothing wrong with that. It does, however, mean that the music is in danger of veering into exotica or even exploitation territory. I love both of these styles of music so I'm not too bothered. However, as much as the linear notes try and persuade you otherwise this record is a blatant attempt to cash in on America's increasing interest in the 'east'.
The 'east' in the western imagination has stood for a large number of things and in the sixties it came to be seen as place of spiritual enlightenment. A place to escape the horrors of western capitalism and the mechanised, ordered world, a place where people could find out who they were. The Beatles' sojourn with the Maharishi was very influential.
The 'east' also came to be connected with a kind of drugged out bliss. The music that westerners associated with this was often the sitar. It was strange and exotic and is floated and swirled rather than pummeled and attacked as so much western music seemed to do. The repetitive nature of ragas also helped stoned people to reach bliss. 
There is very much a soundtrack flavour to the Comic Brotherhood. A feeling that a mood is being evoked by people who really don't know too much about it. The presence of studio session bassist supreme and member of the Wrecking Crew Carol Kaye does nothing to make me think otherwise.
At this time there were lots of these kind of records being put out whether they were sitar-sploitation such as the Folkswingers,freak-out exploitation such as the The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds or Emil Richards' New Time Elements. Wonderful records all but surely the produce of men trying to appeal to an audience they didn't really understand
Take Arr 294 on the second side. To my ears it sounds like the kind of 'freak out' track that you might hear in a Davie Allan soundtrack - although with added sitar.
The opening track, Journey to the East, is a poem set to music by Hersh Hamel who would go on to spend time with Art Pepper. It's repeated verse "Peace/ Is What I/ Had Come Searching For/ Spiritual Comfort/ Thoughts far/ From Those of War" I think neatly sums up what the 'east' stood for. Backed by some fine sitar playing this is one of the highlights of the record for me.
There are also two covers, The Look of Love and Lady Friend, the later being a Byrds track by David Crosby. Bob Thiele, who produced this record and ran Impluse, was always searching for pop-jazz hits. Although his label put out many records by 'new thing' artists such as Coltrane, Shepp, Ayler and re-released records by Sun Ra, he also put out a lot of easier and smoother records.
In my opinion the musicians seem most at home on these covers, no doubt because they were familiar and because they are basically jazz versions of the songs with sitar on top.
I got this record from an ebay sale. There used to be a web site called Show and Tell Music who, a few years ago, sold some of his collection in large batches. If I'd had any more money at the time I would have bought more but as it was I was very pleased to get the records I did. If you are out there and read this, please update your website - it was great.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


Every so often I stumble across a record that makes me think "Why hasn't anyone told me about this before?".
In this case no has told me about this before because it seems that no one has heard it or if they have then they don't hear in it what I hear.
Now, I don't mind having strange tastes, after all that's to be expected if you like vinyl in a download age, but the silence over dalek i's Compass, Kum'pas just seems weird to me.
People rave over far lesser 80s post punk bands but despite the current attention to so-called cold wave bands there seems to be no room for dalek i.
In some ways, however, its very refreshing to be able to make your own mind up without being influenced by anyone else.
And my mind is telling me that this in an unjustly forgotten piece of plastic that deserves more attention. So, if after reading this you are intrigued go onto a well known auction website and get a copy. They are really cheap and fairly easy to come by.
Hailing from Liverpool and, like most Liverpool bands, at one point having a future member of Big In Japan in their ranks (Dave Balfe if you are interested) they were obsessed with using electronic means to make music. Needless to say Kraftwerk and Suicide were an influence. Although there are real instruments, such as the tradional guitar, bass and drums they are usually only used to assist the synths.
The most complete history of the band, side-projects and further adventures can be found here: http://robinparmar.com/dalek-i-love-you.html
The LP kicks off with their second single The World. I find this a haunting and dark song. With a very flat vocal Alan Gil sings about the unpleasantness of the world - this is the 'real world'! There is a great bit of one fingered synth work about half way throught that is worthy of the Human League and suddenly the whole thing shudders to a close with what could be a laugh, a cough or a death rattle.
The rest of the record doesn't get very much warmer. 8 Track wonderfully utilises tape manipulation to slow down parts of the song, which together with the sawing guitar, some off key piano work and wordless voical give a woozy, drunken feel.
Next is Destiny (Dalek I Love You) which is the song that got me into Dalek i in the first place. Cold, spacey and slightly anguished I love this song. It is exactly the sort of music that Dr Who should be listening to. "What would I gain to sell my brain to a machine" goes the chorus. As dystopian a pronouncement as you are likely to hear.
Other key tracks are Freedom Fighters, the cover of You Really Got Me and We're All Actors. Freedom Fighters has some bouncy organ work and choppy guitar licks and on first listen seems to be one of the happiest songs on the record. Closer attention to the lyrics soon dispels that idea as it become clear that the song is about someone being attacked by a mob, possibly of fascist skinheads, for no reason.The Kinks, You Really Got Me is stripped down to the drum machine beat and an insistant bass overlaid with some electronic work. Under this onslaught it ceases to be about unrequited love and takes on a rather dictatorial quality. We're All Actors has a slightly ska-ish bass line over short organ stabs. From the sounds of it, being an actor is not all its cracked up to be.
The more I listen the more inventive this LP becomes. Is it too much to compare it to the Beta Bands EP's album? Well, there are, obviously, none of the sampledelica and hip hop influences. But none-the-less there is a similar playfullness and willingness to chuck anything in that will produce the right (wrong) results. The restrainted slightly muted vocals, the slow drum machine beats, the loving synth work and the rare appearance of the guitar combine to make this a rare pleasure.
The cover artwork is also worthy of note. Designed by Chris Hughes of the band the front has a shape that may or may not be meant to represent Japan and this shape appears in reverse on the back of the sleeve. The carefully designed calligraphy lends an almost architectural quality. On the reverse the tracks are listed against a timeline to give an idea of how long they last. A great idea that I've never seen anywhere else.

Monday, 6 December 2010


My wife and my mother are from South Africa and one way or another there are lots of South African things in our house. Although, I always 'knew' that South Africa was a country known for its jazz but in many many trips there I had never seen a single piece of vinyl. I guess my muscial tastes had also not developed to quite the level needed to appreciate jazz to the full.
Anyway, during one of our trips out there we were having a few drinks at one of my wife's friends and when I mentioned I liked vinyl he ran into the house and came out with a stack of records his mother had given him. I'd like to say that this was one of them but unfortunately it wasn't. However, one of the records was Mannenberg by Dollar Brand and Basil Coatzee. It opened my mind and ears to SA jazz and with the help of the internet I set off in search of other pieces of SA jazz vinyl.
It may come as no surprise that apartheid was as harmful to jazz in South Africa as it was to almost every other form of artistic endeavour. Black South Africans could not move freely so could not go to rehearsals, gigs or recording dates, there were limits to the number of black people who could be together at any one time in case they were engaged in political activity, movement was restricted by the pass system, reasons for being out at night could not include being a musician as the state did not recognise that black people could be musicians, there were few venues in any township where live music could be played and those that did exist were poorly equipet and often violent places, radio stations were Bantu-ised in the same way that much of the rest of black South African life was and therefore jazz struggled to find an outlet and finally bands could not be racially mixed or play to racially mixed audiences and often black performers could not play to white audiences or if they did they had to endure degrading treatment.
In these circumstances its a miracle that any music was produced at all. But people did produce art, poetry, dance and music in the face of great odds.
One of the people who was determined that jazz should have an outlet was Rashid Valley who established the As-Shams, The Sun label in Johannesburg and it is thanks to him, in my opinion, that there is as much jazz on record from the seventies as there is - and there isn't much!
Anyway, enough background what about the music. This record, Plum and Cherry by Lionel Pillay and Basil Coetzee consists of two side-long pieces, Cherry, composed by Dollar Brand and Plum by Lionel Pillay.
In some ways Cherry leaves off from where Mannenbery finished. It's foundation is the repetative, hypnotic and surprisingly slow bass theme by Charles Johnstone that continues almost unchanged for the entire 25 minute and 28 seconds of the track. With restrained soft drumming and percussion from Rod Clark the rhythm section enables Lionel Pillay and Basil Coetzee to explore different tones, imaginative spaces and inflections throughout. This is music to dance to. Indeed my brother in law has danced with my daughter to this track. Within its structure is encorporates elements of an earlier style of South African jazz called marabi but retains some of the sophistication of jazz. Just as with practically every country that produces jazz musicians the issue of American-isms in the music was important in South Africa. I believe in tracks such as this a new particularly South African voice can be heard.
Plum starts with a repeated piano riff that, to my ears, sounds like it was played on the piano used on the Mannenberg track. Has it been treated in some way? I can't say but it makes me think of the pianists lot to arrive at gigs to find an out of tune instrument that he has to make do with.
But rather than repeat the Mannenberg formula, Pillay suddenly introduces an electric organ which takes the tune into an almost disco like area. From the stately rythm of Cherry the listener finds oneself in the middle of a funky, sweating dancefloor. The high hats and congos from Clark would not have been out of place at the Paradise Garage. About half of the way through Pillay brings the piano back into the song and when I first heard it this reminded me of about a thousand house records - but made twenty yearsearlier. If you don't dance to this there is something wrong with you. It may be music for the feet rather than the head but if you let your feet go your head won't mind. By the time the track finishes after nearly nineteen minutes with a refrain of the initial piano riff you're a sweaty happy mess
In some ways this track prefigures what was to happen to the South African music scene. Influences from America and Europe were not just adopted into South African music but incorporated into South African forms to produce new types of music that would shock traditionalists but that would also refuse to be slavish imitations of their sources.
On a final note the wonderful cover painting is by Hargreaves Ntukwana.  I would love to know more about him if anyone has any info. And if you have a spare copy of Tete Mbambisa's Didn't You Tell My Mother I'd also love to know.

Here's some music 

Friday, 3 December 2010


I love the internet. Without it I probably wouldn't have been able to get this record and I certainly wouldn't have been able to get it from Brazil. Of course, the vinyl has had a long and hard life and there are some crackles and pops, but that just adds to the enormous pleasure of this record.
This is Gil's first full-length album from 1967, although he had previously appeared on the Eum Vim de Bahia (The Group from Bahia) record.
It shows his roots in bossa nova and at the same time points to some of the changes that he would make to Brazilian music when he and Caetano Veloso launched the Tropicalia movement in 1968.
Accompained in true bossa fashion by simple perscussion or drums played with brushes, sometimes backed by gentle strings and on one track by a busy horn section at first glance this is music that is clearly based on the foundation of the greats of bossa rather than looking ahead to the electric, psychedelised Tropicalia.
However, although he tries a number of times to emulate his namesake Joao Gilberto's famously nasel vocal delivery, he just can't keep it up. Gil's voice is too strident, too full, too wild an instrument and rather like Sinatra's efforts on his collaboration with Jobim, there is always the sense that Gil will break free and let his voice take full light.
Which indeed it does on the barnstorming title track. Later covered and popularised by Elis Regina, who would do the same for many of Gil's songs, Louvaco sounds like a great party by the seaside.
Another clue to the musical revolution that lay ahead can be found in his choice to cover one of his friends Tom Ze's A Moreninha which has typically fast paced singing against the rythym.
Other than the amazing title track, other highlights include Roda, also covered by Elis and by Sergio Mendes on his sublime Look Around LP where, if anything it is even faster and Lunik 9. According to Caetano Veloso in his memoires Tropical Truth, Gil played this song at the benefit concert they were allowed to give before being sent into exile. He describes it as a song which "laments the immenent death of romanticism with the profanation of the moon by the space mission". It is a wonderful song where the seemingly simple and spacious arrangements that are the hallmark of bossa nova are used to marvelous effect. Listen out for the effect of the sweeping string stabs that seem to suggest movement up to the moon. I would also like to recommend the samba influenced Ensaio Geral which is crying out for you to start dancing around the room as though you are having your own carnival.
I love this record. It has an amazing depth and  measure to it. I love the way that Gil take bossa forms and cliches and adopts them into his own wonderful songwriting. Like Joao Gilberto, Gil's simplicity seems easy and natural but is in fact the product of hardwork and inspired songwriting. The result is a genuine delight.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


As you can see this is not some sought-after obscurity that only the cognoscenti are aware of. But its the first album I ever owned and its my blog so I can include anything I want!
I orginally posted this review on Amazon but I think it perfectly captures what I feel about this particular record.

Imagine, if you will, a small boy of 10.
He is in a record shop for the first time, a very large and imposing record shop. He's a little intimidated but he holds his mother's hand tight and pulls her through the people until they find the exact record he wants.
He's heard lots of the songs before on the radio but it's Baggy Trousers that he really loves. Its very happy, and you can dance to it. The video is great and its somehow about school.
So they find the album - actually it was a tape - with seven gurning loons on the front and go home.
And then he listens to it on his walkman again and again and again. He loves this music until it is in his pores.
As a little boy there isn't really anything to compare this to - he is just discovering music (the next thing he buys is Lou Reed because he heard Walk on the Wild Side in a movie he wasn't supposed to watch).
But as he grew older Madness stayed with him. The music didn't really mature as he did - it is still as wonderfully madcap and funny as it was all those years ago. The booming voices - One Step Beyonddddddddd - the parping horns - the ska (if only he'd know that word) rhythms - the silly lyrics (it took years to work out what House of Fun was all about).
There is no need to feel sad - listen to these early Madness songs - some of their best - probably most of their best. They were still holding on to their ska roots - but their pure pop selves were breaking through. For me it is a wonderful record full of more memories than almost any other (I still remember getting into a fight over whether Madness were better than Adam and the Ants).
Nothing more, nothing less, love is the best!

(I promise I'll post something less mainstream next)


I have long ago given up looking for anything specific in charity shops. The fun, for me, is in letting yourself go and trying something new. For a pound you can suspend critical heirachy and buy anything you want as long as it looks interesting. If you are right and it is interesting you've scored. If not you've dontated a pound to charity.

The congruence of events that brings a record into your hands in a charity shop never ceases to amaze me. Here I am, at the specific time to find this record, and in the right frame of mind to pick it up. Maybe a day later and it wouldn't be there. A day earlier and it would not have been donated.

How did it get here, who owned it before me, was it part of large collection, did the previous owner listen to it often, what were they like?

Back to the charity shop and you know the scene: A man in his early thirties is squatting over a box of records inconveniently placed underneath some acrylic dresses.

His fingers flick over the pile of dog-eared and battered records. His eyes, well practiced in recognising record covers, need no more that a few seconds to take in the pictures. Military Band records, Original Broadway Cast records, Mantovani, Cliff Richard, Phil Collins.

Then he sees something that he does not recognise. Who is this strange man in a boiler suit with a oicture of a toy baseball player projected on to him? He looks odd and unusual and when it turns out that the record is on the CRI label (Composers Recordings Incorporated, A Not-For-Profit, Tax-Exempt Corporation) the deal is done and a pound changes hands

 Charles Amirkhanian describes himself in the linear notes as a 'composer, poet and percussionist' and is 'one of the leading United States exponents of text-sound composition, the intermedium between music and literature.'

Now, there is no doubt that this is music with intellectual pretentions. It is music that is composed rather than written, performed rather than played, involving pieces not songs, and taking in influences ranging from Freud, to Stravinsky and Upton Sinclair.

However, and slightly to my surprise, it is hugely engaging and warm.

This is in no small part the result of the use of early synthesisers. This record was released in 1985 but most of the 'pieces' were recorded in 1981 or 1982. He uses very early drum synths, vocoders and Eventide Harmonisers amongst others as well as off-beam percussion instruments.

Amirkhanian's voice is also very deep and warm and reminds me slightly of Ken Nordine. I like his West Coast accent and his intonation.

He is also clearly very humerous. At one time he says/sings 'Bomb, bomb, fondue' which put a smile on my face. He also recorded the barking of a dog and used it as the basis for the piece 'Dog of Stravinsky'. Perhaps I am laughing slightly at him and he did not mean to be funny. But I can't help myself.

I also love the exploratory way in which the music was made. Rather like one of the Radiophonic Workshop composers he is always looking for ways to make unusal sounds, preferably sounds that have not been made before. He records ducks and dogs and people snoring, he speeds the music up and slows it down, records acoustic instruments and plays them through synths, takes his voice and chops it up and re-arranges it, selects words for their sounds not meanings,

He comes across as part Ken Nordine, part Gil Scott Heron and part loopy teacher. In essence, he comes across as like no one else I have heard before.

There are copious notes about the music which I hope you can read and there is also an insert that came with it as well. It is music to be taken SERIOUSLY.

I would never have searched for this record. If I had heard of Amirkhanian I would probably never have wanted to own one of his recordings. But now I have one and I am very pleased about that.


I first discovered Lee Hazlewood through his collaboration with Nancy Sinatra, Did You Ever.
At the time my ears just weren't ready for his mix of country, easy listening and rock and roll. I couldn't hear his gift for writing both words and music.
So I put it away and went on listening to other stuff.
Then, a few years later I found, in a pile of records above a book shop in Dorset, a copy of Something Special. The photo on the front shows Lee with strange, abnormally white eyes and teeth. I put it in the pile and took it home.
Something Special is an unusual record for many reasons but I was completely won over.
After that, if ever I saw a Lee Hazelwood record I would pick it up.

For me, his low, baritone voice conjures images of wind-swept deserts on the outskirts of towns in the West of America. It makes me think of the opening scene in Paris, Texas.
Which is why I love the fact that he went to Sweden in the seventies and never went back. I love the irony of modern western music coming from the north. Rather in the same way I like the idea of Morrissey living in LA.

There is nothing remotely psychedelic about Requiem for an Almost Lady. Some Velvet Morning has been described as psychedelic and Lee has been called the psychedelic cowboy. I couldn't disagree more. Lee's, sometimes very personal, music does not to me connect with psychedelic music. Instead it describes a man who may well have taken the same drugs but who's music is not about drugs or even for those who take drugs. In particular this record is about love and loss. And although this drives the writer to drink and drugs these are only symptoms of his heartache.

With only acoustic guitar, bass, harmonica and voice this is a record with lots of space. However, it is never stark. Rather the production gives it a very warm and intimate feel. Close your eyes and you really could believe that it was a live recording of a small group of lovelorn men in a smoke filled living room.

The vocals are some of the best he ever committed to vinyl, with little of the gruffness he affected with Nancy. There is a real tenderness and emotion that is sometimes swamped by Lee's bigger orchestral productions.

The record starts with a spoken word segment and there are others throughout. "In the begining there was nothing, but it was kinda fun to watch nothing grow." It ends with these words "Finally there was nothing but believe me it was no fun waiting for nothing to end". Deep and meaningful or pretentious nonsense?

I love this record because it charts the course of a relationship from the joy of the start to the pain of the seperation but from the viewpoint of the end. As Lee says on the back of the sleeve "These songs are about one lady ... her name is not important ... she knows who she was ... What is important is once she loved me very much..." It is full of vignettes that show the pain of having loved and lost, of having given so much and lost so much. As he sings on Little Miss Sunshine (Little Miss Rain) "Two drops of happy, one pinch of pain".

As angry as he is ("I'm glad I never, had a gun" he sings), there is still a place in his heart for his lost love. And that is something I can relate to. In the last track he goes so far to sing "I'd rather be your enemy, then hear you call me friend". Am I the only one who feels that way about a past lover?

Finally, I love this record because it has one of my guitar heros, Jerry Cole on it.