All Africa Radio – NME Cassette 019
Once upon a time I was accused of disappearing into my world of books and films where darkness came too soon. Total nonsense of course. There was music too. But the suggestion was that I was missing out. Total nonsense too. Products have so much to teach us. So many stories to tell …
I told you I still had it. That tape of the final one of Dexys’ Projected Passion Revues at the Old Vic. Fantastic. The fact that it still has not appeared on CD or DVD suggests that recordings of those performances may not be in such wide circulation as I’d imagined. I thought everyone had to have a copy. But seemingly not.
Yeah I found it. And I’ll tell you what else I found. A box of old NME cassettes I’d forgotten about. I’d hung on to them for some reason. Don’t ask me why. It’s funny isn’t it how these days whenever anyone talks about NME cassettes it’s inevitably that loathsome C86 thing. People seem sordidly sentimental about all that. It’s easy to forget it was just one tape in a long series. And there were a whole host of cassettes in the series that were considerably more interesting.
Oh yeah, that C81 was a completely different thing, I agree, but actually that original C81 cassette was just before the series I’m talking about. That was a joint venture with Rough Trade at the start of 1981. I’ve got my copy of that still of course. I love that to death. It still sums up a spirit of optimism and adventure. A fantastic pop collection. Still works for me. All the Postcard stuff. The Rough Trade acts. The Two Tone thing. And most importantly our old favourites Linx. The sound of Brit funk. Just to irritate the soul boy snobs. That was such a brilliant twist to the story when the bass player, the tall dude, went on to join up with 23 Skidoo and stay for the next 50 years.
And in contrast C86 seems like desperation. Clutching at straws. Trying to create something artificial. No diversity allowed. No funk. No soul. No reggae. No gogo. No electro. Just stupid, stupid careerist journalists lumping together a load of groups with essentially very little in common. Horrible. No regard for the consequences.
Well, yeah, I really do think people have forgotten how after C81 the NME started regularly putting together some quality collections. Not free cover mounted marketing nonsense. Real collections that had been thought out. Where people had to do a little bit of work and send off for the cassettes. I’ve got the first five in the series. Life got a bit wobbly after that. You know what I’m referring to.
There’s some fantastic stuff here. The first one was Dancin’ Master. I’ve got it here. Some of it’s brilliant. Tom Browne’s Funking for Jamaica. Linx again. Funky 4+1 with That’s The Joint. Was that Sha Rock? The Jam. Dennis Bovell. Contort Yourself. Treason in French.
Then there was the Jive Wire. Not quite as good if I remember. But there’s a sequence that goes from the Gun Club to the Panther Burns to Black Uhuru to Defunkt, Rip Rig & Panic, Carmel and Vic Godard. You don’t get much better than that do you? Beats the bleedin’ Wedding Present and stupid Soup Dragons doesn’t it? Now let me think. The Mighty Lemon Drops or Suicide? Hmmm.
Do you remember the Mighty Reel tape? Listen to this line-up. Weekend, King Sunny Ade, Ornette Coleman, Robert Wyatt, Rockers Revenge, Haircut 100, Cabaret Voltaire, and Liaisons Dangereuses. What went wrong?
My own theory is that compartmentalisation killed pop music. It’s like whenever you go into a record shop now, and you’re confronted by all these categories. I hate all that. Who decides what goes where? Pop is pop. It’s all music. Why give things names? That’s what happened in the ‘80s. You can see how it went from one mad mess and became very specialised and separated. You got all these discrete editions of supposed sounds. Absolute ridiculous nonsense. Brother D & the Collective Effort belong along side the Blue Orchids and Fun Boy Three. That’s the way it should be.
Funnily enough the tape I keep playing at the moment is All Africa Radio. I’m sure it only saw the light of day due to a charity tie-in with Live Aid. But nevertheless it’s a great collection of African sounds from the mid-‘80s. Great stuff. But I’m like why didn’t they mix it up with Primal Scream’s Velocity Girl or the Bodines’ Therese. Throw them in with Manu Dibango and Fela. That’s pop. That’s why the Sea & Cake are so great. Sam Prekop understands all that instinctively. The Beat did too. Russian uniforms and highlife guitars on Top of the Pops. And it’s easy to forget that they were the first people to release Heart of The Congos in the UK weren’t they? And Cedric Mylton sang along on their finest moment Doors of Your Heart.
I’d forgotten how good the Super Rail Band was. Foliba is on this tape. Wonderful. Made me go and dig out the collection Ace put out years ago. And I haven’t stopped dancing yet. Yeah Gonzales, that’s right. Did you know Gloria Jones wrote that song? Stop distracting me. Where was I?
Yeah, the Super Rail Band of the Buffet Hotel de la gare de Bamako. What a genius concept. Pop music preserved by the state railway companies. Wow. Imagine waiting for a train with them playing. You don’t get that at Macclesfield or Grantham. Full marks to the Mali adminstrations for that one.
The guitars on these records then. All the African stuff. Highlife and everything else. The guitars just seem to buzz around and the bass just pops all over the place. People used to moan when Peel played all the Soweto stuff but he was spot on. Incredible stuff. And that was the way to do it. Stick the Bhundu Boys on next to the Mary Chain. Mind you, we used to go on about the magic of 12-string Rickenbackers. Some of those coras and stuff had 21. Work the mathematics of that out.
The one you’re thinking of is Orchestre Baobab. They were from Dakar. The other end of the railway line from Bamako. But you’re right. The CD edition of their Pirate’s Choice was the one I played to death a few years back. It is just so gorgeous. A perfect summer’s soundtrack. The latin thing going on in there. The Cuban roots. The rhythms. The guitars and everything work so wonderfully. Very detailed and intricate. Like pointillism.
Funnily enough that Orchestre Baobab stuff, it first started out as a cassette, sold in markets, and the music made its way around the world. Don’t forget cassetes were going to revolutionise the world. I can remember when you got your first tape-to-tape deck. It was almost as big as the sideboard you kept it on. And the first Walkmen. With Mclaren going on about piracy and the life of leisure, then Bow Wow Wow stealing all the Burundi beats and Morricone guitars. There was their Cassette Pet. And then Music for Stowaways with the British Electric Foundation or whatever they were called. Did you see that brilliant line from Davy Henderson? He was blaming them for killing pop music by starting the process of reconciliation for Tina Turner, which inadvertently led to Simply The Best. Blooming true too. Of course Postcard were going to put out a live Fire Engines cassette too.
Cassettes were great though weren’t they? I used to be terrified of playing ACR’s Graveyard and the Ballroom even though it was one of my favourite things. I was just convinced it would disintegrate and get chewed up. How often did that happen. And there was no way of retrieving anything was there? Somehow that sense of risk was great though.
But for a while cassettes were the thing. Like the book I’m reading now. Derek Raymond’s He Died With His Eyes Open. It’s very early ‘80s. The victim. A real loser. He makes all these cassettes with his thoughts poured out on. Cassettes were quite the thing. Remember there was a while when the record companies would stick extra tracks on the tape. The Scars did that. I never forgave them for sticking their cover of David’s Silver Dream Machine on the cassette edition of Author! Author! Never did get a copy of that.
I quite like the fact that cassettes are almost redundant now. I still find myself rummaging through boxes of tapes in charity shops. Found a tape of the Mo-Dettes’ Story So Far the other week. That was a bit of a find. It’s a bit of a lost classic now I reckon. Everyone must worship the White Mice single, but the general consensus was that they lost it when they signed to Decca. But from this distance I’d say the LP sounds great. Some of the guitars and stuff. Rememer the sleeve to that first single? The mock-photo romance strip? The Mo-Dettes - the best thing that’s ever happened to me – or anyone else!! Ramona sigh …
© 2007 John Carney