An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down
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Thereís nowt as strange as folk. Thatís clearly the premise behind the excellent Andy Votel compilation Folk Is Not A Four Letter Word on his new Cherry Red-sponsored Delay 68 boutique imprint. Votel, one of the legion of record addicts so dedicated to sharing strange sounds and lost nuggets with us, has put together a very loose leaf set of folk gems. And any collection that draws together the Poppy Family, Wendy and Bonnie, the Bronco Bullfrog soundtrack, and Brigitte Fontaine has to be a special thing.

Of course timing is an important thing. Folk is incredibly hip. And there are far worse things to be horribly hip. Iím siting listening to the Shelagh McDonald compilation just issued by the good people at Castle. Itís absolutely gorgeous, and perfectly captures that Ď60s-become-the-Ď70s folk rock thing. Even the supporting cast is spot on. Bringing together people from The Action (well, Mighty Baby by that time), Fairport Convention, Keith Tippett, Fotheringay, and so on, can be no bad thing. And Shelagh looks and sounds exactly as you want a folk singer from that time to sound. Itís all almost too good to be true.

For Shelagh disappeared after making the two LPs on this salvaged set. Sheís not been heard of since 1972. She totally disappeared from view. In a way thatís absolutely perfect. Itís what we want from our art. I have always been obsessed by the idea of people doing that sort of thing. Just creating one or two perfect works of art and disappearing forever. So few do. It takes extraordinary courage and discipline.

I remember getting tremendously upset when the Raincoats reformed in the early Ď90s. Partly I got upset because they were recalled to life on the back of some odd praise from Kurt Cobain. I could never ever see the connection between Kurtís love of people like the Raincoats, Marine Girls, Swell Maps, and the rock roar of Nirvana. Maybe I missed something.

Anyway, the Raincoats were back in circulation, and I resented them being associated with the orthodoxy of grunge and riot grrls. I ignored their comeback shows and records. My loss! Their Looking In The Shadows set from the mid-Ď90s is still streets ahead.

I am becoming increasingly fond of the idea of people like the Raincoats, Vic Godard, and Davey Henderson growing old disgracefully. I understand the urge to dabble again after years of inertia, to splutter ill-coordinatedly into activity of some sort, to make a bit of a mess but hopefully chance upon a bit of the old magic along the way. Because at least they were gifted in a way so many others never were. Because they have a right to express themselves, and prove something to the world. Itís hard to ignore an itch. Believe me!

So letís celebrate the fact that the Raincoatsí Ana da Silva has released the surprisingly wonderful The Lighthouse set on Chicks On Speed. Itís a real gem. And all the more welcome while the Raincoatsí recordings are out-of-circulation. Anaís voice (in all senses) is as brave and vulnerable as ever. The surprise is the minimal electronic setting. But it works. And is appropriate for the setting. Chicks On Speed may be totally out-of-fashion, but letís not forget their contribution to restoring some of the post-punk pioneers like Delta 5 and Malaria! to the musical arena when it was far from fashionable to do so.

Anaís set also features a contribution from Stuart Moxham of the Young Marble Giants/The Gist, a true comrade-in-arms from those Rough Trade days when so much was got away with. Their collaboration here is on a version of the Jobim/Moraes number 'Modinha'. I think it should be compulsory for sets of this sort to feature a Jobim song. Itís the sort of thing Joyce could do in her sleep. I am sure she does, and hope she long continues to do so. For as far as I know Joyce has been recording for 37 years, but looking at and listening to her most recent Just A Little Bit Crazy set I say she should continue to do so. Along with, say, Emmylou Harris, Francoise Hardy, Teena Marie, she is making such a strong point.

I wonder what Ana da Silvaís old comrade Gina Birch is doing now. Ginaís project as The Hangovers back in the late Ď90s is something of a lost occasional classic. It does occasionally rock, which is bad, but she sounds like a dubbed out Marlene Dietrich at times, which is a lovely thing, and very much the thing I find Patti Smith and Marianne Faithful never are. I hope that within the next few years Gina will want to create something.

I am trying not to talk about work ethics here. You canít do that with art. Thereís too much involved, and too much at stake. Who knows why some people leave six years between records? Who knows why it takes Donna Tartt ten years to write a book? I just know it's taken Sam Prekop six years to produce a second solo set. Six years on from that gorgeous first collection, we have Whoís Your New Professor. If you love The Sea and Cake, and Sam Prekopís languidly lovely songs, you will love this record. It sounds like a Sam Prekop record. Itís got less of a Brazilian feel than the first solo set, and a bit of a Shuggie Otis thing going on, and a touch of the Richard Thompsons in there, but itís pure Sam Prekop. And that means itís sweetly special. Weíre suddenly spoiled.

© 2005 John Carney

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