Saturday September 15th 2001
I was interested to note that today's Daily Mail had decided not to go ahead with a promotion of a 'Classic Greats' Pop CD, as they considered it inappropriate after the events of the past week. Say what?
For, surely is anything in the world can bring people together, soothe the pain and sorrow, serve as an outlet for anger and stimulate thoughts, and whatever, then it's music.
With so much happening this week, so much coverage and reaction, so many conflicting emotions, so many tongues bitten I suspect, refuge may have been sought in music. So what did you turn to?
Preposterous as it may seem now, I remember reading that the (once great) Danny Baker came home from an early punk performance so wired and fired up that the only music he could find to sustain the mood was an old Eddie Cochrane compilation, which seems fair enough.
While it seems daft to compare the stormy blast of the punk rock explosion to what's going on now, it has to be said that my thoughts went back (like I bet so many who had been brought up on a diet of Clash) to old Joe singing about a lot of people not getting their supper tonight as TV broadcast pictures of towers crumbling.
I don't know what will happen now, or what will have happened by the time you read this, but I made the mental leap from the Clash covering Willie Williams to finding that only the stirring sounds of the golden age of reggae could provide the right soundtrack for the times, with the right balance of spirituality and rhythm.
I have said so many times before how I studiously avoid the classics. Well, I am a bit of a hypocrite for while I avoid the Beatles like the plague I spend a lot of time in the company of Bob Dylan. But I have spent very little time listening to Bob Marley since the late '70s when I squirmed with delight at him mentioning The Slits and Dr Feelgood in a song.
I am, however, always awed at the universality of his appeal, and oddly have been unable to get his 'Small Axe' out of my head over the past few days: 'if you are the big tree, we are the small axe sharpened to cut you down.'
Music is a funny thing, and I go back to the Mail's decision to postpone its promotion. I remember as the Gulf War started, Gilles Peterson getting into all sorts of trouble for playing a whole show of anti-war songs, but today on Capitol Radio no less I heard Timmy Thomas' 'Why Can's We Live Together' followed by Soul II Soul's 'Keep On Moving' and Massive Attack's 'Unfinished Sympathy'. Yes, the same Capital Radio immortalised for those who grew up on The Clash.
Like a lot of people it was via the Clash that I first came across Phil Ochs. I note Elektra are about to re-issue his first two LPs on one CD. I wonder what Phil would have written about the events of the apst week and the language now being used. Silent he would not have been, for this was a man that went to Chile to sing with Victor Jara and show his support for Allende. I wonder what songs the 'now' generation will write about what's going on.
On the subject of New York and two for one CDs, there is on Nascente a set that comprises Ray Baretto's Acid/Hard Hands LPs at a nice price. The same label also has an essential Eddie Palmieri compilation out. Anyway, the Ray Baretto CD has a great cover with the two original LPs artfully arranged near speakers, instruments and a pile of books. Aggravatingly, it's hard to read the spines of the books, though one is definitely on Serpent's Tail (As Serious As Your Life, perhaps?) and one is definitely Lloyd Bradley's essential Bass Culture , the story of when reggae was king, now out in a smaller edition paperback, so no excuses for not having a copy to leave around artfully on surfaces of your own.
The book itself barely touches on Israel Vibration, but Bradley contributes sleeve notes to the recent EMI reissue of the vocal trio's 1978 LP The Same Song. Possibly, the title song may be familiar to many, being arguably part of a holy trinity with Culture singing about when the two sevens clash, and the Congo's sublime invocation of 'Row Fishermen, Row'. The LP as a whole is at least as great as Heart of The Congos , and anyone who knows anything about when reggae was king will understand there are few higher recommendations. It goes well beyond the beauty of the harmonies (or the occasional jarring note they seem to introduce deliberately to make things sound wrong, like Subway Sect talked about in the same era). Perhaps it's worth borrowing Bradley's words:
'The sentiments are seldom short of beautiful as they follow through with numbers like 'Lift Your Conscience', 'Jah Time Has Come', 'Weep and Mourn' and 'Prophet Has Arise', singing of biblical prophecy, mortality, hard times and redemption with the same understated urgency.'
For anyone who doesn't know the story, there is an added poignancy in the Israel Vibrations legend. Three young polio victims, exiled from a rehabilitation centre for being Rastas, then in turn rejected by the Rasta community for being disabled, are forced to live rough for years, occasionally literally singing for their supper, but never losing their faith.
The story turned out better than it could have, and The Same Song is an astonishing climax of the years of 'sufferation'. Character building is one thing, but think what went into The Same Song .
So, perhaps understandably, The Same Song is the record at the moment that for me has due gravitas and the right tone for this week. The new reissue has, I think, an advantage over the recent Pressure Sounds release in having bonus cuts like the track 'Crisis' featuring Augustus Pablo. Please treat yourself if you don't have a copy of this LP. I shall just finish by stating that the song 'The Same Song' is itself a plea for unity among the different sectors of the Rasta community, but the message is universal, and just remember what those guys went through before making that prayer into such a beautiful and spiritual song. That's pop, and you can't get any more appropriate than that, whatever happens next.
© Kevin Pearce 2001