Alphabet Soup – Sunny Day in Harlem 12”
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 …
Aww go on then I’ll have another coke. And stop being so prickly. You’re not normally quite so sensitive. I wasn’t laughing at you. I just thought it was funny.
Of course knowing our age and background we’re going to think that SWP refers to a far left organisation, but why you should think the Socialist Workers Party would snub West Ham has me a little baffled. But it’s an easy mistake mate. I reckon it would have taken me a long time to work out The Sun was referring to Shaun Wright Phillips but nevertheless …
Look if it’s any consolation we’ve all made those kind of howlers. I don’t think this would make the back page of The Sun, but I did once make a bit of a gaffe about Andrea Parker. And it wasn’t the obvious one about getting the musician and the actress confused. Nope, this was back in ooh god I guess the end of the ‘90s when electronic music still just about ruled the roost. And Creation was finally getting in on the act by setting up a dance subsidiary and one of the releases was a cracking drum ‘n’ bass set from One True Parker.
Now I don’t know if it was a reviewer that didn’t know his arp from his elbow or whether I just got the wrong end of the stick. But I bought the record on good faith, convinced it was by the godlike Andrea Parker who perhaps had grown frustrated by Mo’Wax internal politics and had hopped labels to the Creation cartel. Not that you’d really have wanted that to happen, but there you go.
So I bought the One True Parker record. Actually I tell a lie. I must have sent off for it. And I got it out all ready to play and lo and behold it wasn’t the great Andrea. Indeed it wasn’t just not the great Andrea it was another Parker altogether who just happened to be a Parker I knew. Well, knew might be stretching a point, but certainly knew of and had met.
So rather than Andrea it was Karen. The same Karen who used to run with the Primals crowd a long time before. I thought of her as a photographer. I think she took the photo on the back of the first Primals single. The one with Francoise Hardy on the front, where it went a little awry, and the great lady has a very unbecoming five o’clock shadow. She also ended up singing backing vocals on one of the early Mary Chain singles or Peel sessions. Was it Some Candy Talking? One of those anyway. I remember hearing that she’d got hurt at one of the famous Mary Chain shows where there was a bit of petulant fisticuffs, and Joe Foster or someone had had to take her to hospital in Brighton.
Somehow I just hadn’t expected Karen to come up with what was, and still is, a fantastic drum ‘n’ bass set. Good for her. I’m not sure what the purists thought of it, but it is a terrific record. I still dig it out. But as far as I know Karen didn’t do a follow-up. If she did I’d love to hear it. Yet Andrea is still out there isn’t she? As perverse as ever, bless her. That Touchin’ Bass label of hers just keeps plugging away putting out this awesome and wonderfully deep and dark electro stuff, and there’s no promotion, no website, no myspace page, and all the other things you’re meant to have to succeed nowadays.
So you see we all make mistakes. There’s loads when you stop and think about it. Like some of the hip hop heads who got their Ultramagnetic MCs mixed up with their UMCs back in the early ‘90s. That was always funny. I don’t think Kool Keith ever recorded Blue Cheese! Actually that reminds me of another complete hash I made. It would have been the same era. Post-acid jazz. Gilles Peterson was off running Talkin’ Loud and his old partner Patrick Forge had a great Sunday night show on Kiss. I can’t remember if he followed Joey Jay or if it was the other way round. The Word, Sound and Power. Brilliant. The era of the Disciples’ Prowling Lion, UK digidub, the roots of dubstep, and all that. And Michael Campbell’s Wicked Ones. I had no idea he was white, by the way.
Anyway that was a good time for music. Essential listening. Patrick would play a bit of this and that. Joyce, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprasy, Galliano and all that. And one track he played a lot, and I think this would have been around 1991, was Sunny Day In Harlem by Alphabet Soup, which was just one of those tracks that grabbed me, and struck a chord. Post-De La and all that but ahead of Digable Planets and all that. You just heard that track, and thought it was the start of something, but it wasn’t.
It was a 12” that I think was only available on import. It was completely out of the question for me to get a copy at the time, as I wasn’t working, and spent all my time going round junk shops picking up abandoned vinyl. It was a couple of years before I had a steady job again, but I never forgot about that Alphabet Soup 12” so one day I set off for Soho and went round all the shops, all the hip hop specialists, Black Market, Mr Bongos, Release The Groove, and whatever they were called, asking if they had a copy of the Alphabet Soup 12”, and by that time I was ready to pay any price, but my luck wasn’t in. I did spark off some lively conversations about what happened to the record and the group, but that didn’t really help.
Years later I heard that track Rob Galliano did as Earl Zinger. Remember the one, Saturday Morning Rush? It’s hilarious. It’s a monologue about how one Saturday morning he dashes into Soho in search of the latest Skitz 12 and he is ducking and weaving in out of all the record emporiums to no avail, desperate to get back home in time for his girlfriend’s sister’s wedding, and he gets back home empty handed to face the music only to find his girl’s got the record. Nice one. Funnily enough, and this would make a brilliant trivia question, it’s the only other song apart from The Nips’ Gabrielle that mentions the Number 73 bus. And long before it went all bendy on us. Someone should do a dissertation on the role of London’s buses in pop music. There’s that Clash song. Rudi Can’t Fail. And?
Anyway the point to this is that a few years on I saw an Alphabet Soup CD in a local shop, and got rather carried away. Maybe understandably I put two and two together and made twenty two. Alpabet Soup. Jazzy hip hop. Fabulous. The Sunny Day in Harlem boys ride again. When I got home I have to confess I was a little bit disappointed. The sound was very jazz. Real jazz. Serious studious jazz. It lacked a little vim and vigour. Don’t get me wrong it was ok. Just a little too earnest. Real instrumentation. It reminded me of one of the more obscure and well-intentioned Talkin’ Loud releases, like K-Creative or something with UK jazz players like Chris Bowden. I was also a little confused by the credits being very West Coast oriented, when they had been clearly New York guys. But people move. And to be honest I knew less about underground hip hop then than I do now. Our local shops weren’t exactly bursting with Organized Konfusion, KMD, Freestyle Fellowship, and so on. That I got into later, and it was some time before it finally dawned on me that there was more than one outfit called Alphabet Soup. So you see we all get it wrong sometimes.
Now about that drink …
© 2007 John Carney