Friday, 31 December 2010

Make yourself a resolution...

Are you one of those people who used to be into their music but now you just don’t have the time? Perhaps you had kids, or you just find yourself watching TV instead or maybe music these days just sounds a bit crap?

Many people I know fit into this category. They had taste but now find the rare occasion that they do listen to music recycling Massive Attack, De La Soul and Radiohead – the albums they listened to when they were younger.

Undoubtedly, each of these acts produced great music but I’ve got something to tell you – great music is still being made. Like Massive Attack? You’ll probably like the New Gil Scott Heron album. De La Soul? Try Jay Electronica. Radiohead? You’ll probably love These New Puritans.

In a world where real happiness is increasingly unobtainable, music is a way of really lifting the spirits. Taking a little time to sit and listen and seek out something new can be really satisfying as well as being a little bit of ‘me’ time. In the last year or two I’ve played music to friends who have then gone on to buy a CD or two and subsequently report back that they’ve enjoyed getting back into their music again.

In anticipation of the new year I've gone onto Itunes and deleted all the music from my Iphone - a spring clean if you like. The idea being that I'll fill it with new music as I discover it and by the end of December 2011 I'll have a diary of all the wonderful sounds I've discovered in 2011. Life's too short to be listening to all the stuff I've already heard. I've just downloaded my first new album - the Gorillaz album The Fall which was released on Christmas day.

This is the time of year when we make new year’s resolutions. Rather than making the usual broken promises why not make it your pledge to listen to more new music? It will lift your spirits, make you feel young and give us something to talk about. If you don’t know where to start take a comb through this site for ideas starting with my list of the albums of 2010. Who knows, at the end of 2011 you might have your own list!

Friday, 24 December 2010

The very best records of 2010

Its been a great year for music whether it be electronic, hip hop, guitar or singer songwriter. Here are my favourites below complete with videos for you to have a look and listen - I've also linked to my original full reviews where appropriate. Disagree with my choices? Leave yours at the end of the article!

The top 10 albums
10. Skit I Allt – Dungen

Anyone for some Swedish prog folk? What I love about this record is its complete disregard for the mainstream. Like the early krautrock releases they want to take the listener on a sonic journey but they also achieve great subtlety and beauty. This is a record that most obviously (to these ears) recalls Super Furry Animals but also has hints of early Kraftwerk, Thin Lizzy and psychedelic folk.

9. There is Love in You – Four Tet

This isn’t a great album – it’s patchy and it also has a bizarre final track where Mr Hebdon sings to us over acoustic guitar (stick to the day job!). Having said that, it contains three tracks which stand up against anything else released this year. The first two tracks on first listen created an expectation that this would be the record of the year but only Plastic People matched these dizzy heights. Four Tet is still one of (if not) the most relevant musician in Britain today.

8. Queen of Denmark – John Grant
A genre I don’t particularly go for is gay torch songs – Rufus Wainwright leaves me cold. This really caught my ear though – the darkness and bitterness of the lyrics draw you in even though the songs themselves are often candy coated. Midlake guest and their ability to recall American album rock (Chicago, Supertramp, Heart) situates this record in a place that makes it a real guilty pleasure. I was a bit disappointed when Mojo made this their album of the year as I thought this was my discovery (although to be fair to them I got it off the back of their original review!).

7. I’m new here – Gil Scott Heron

Who would have expected a sixty plus year old drug addled soul singer would make one of the most forward thinking and emotional albums of the year? Making use of modern beats to underpin Heron’s tales of childhood abandonment was a masterstroke. He is a true one off...
6. Crooks and Lovers – Mount Kimbie

For all that I love dubstep there are few albums from the genre that I would actually want to listen to from start to finish. Mount Kimbie, like James Blake and Darkstar, recognise the limitations of the genre and so fuse it with other more abstract electronic sounds to create a sloppy-slippy sound that moves things forward again (Slopstep?) Hints of two-step, techno and broken beat keep things interesting while the use of human sounds (vocals, handclaps) creates a connection that few electronic acts achieve. The sound of young London. Love the artwork as well.
5. Archandriod – Janelle Monae
I was expecting neo soul. Instead I got one of the most inventive female fronted albums of recent years. Janelle brought to mind the afro-exentricity of Parliament, Prince and Outkast but also Karen Carpenter and Debbie Harry. This was a proper album starting with a classical suite and packed with highlights throughout - wildly ambitious for a debut. Expect her to be huge.
4. Hidden – These New Puritans

I spent most of the year bemoaning the lack of decent guitar music and then heard this via Paul Morley and a friend. To call it a guitar album is a bit unfair as there is little guitar on it but its undoubtedly an ‘indie’ album bringing to mind Radiohead in particular. Like Radiohead though they realise the limitations of the guitar and focus as much on samurai drums, brass bands, children’s choirs and synths while never forgetting the value of a good hook. Best post modern, art-rock, concept album of the year.

3. A Sufi and a Killer – Gonjasufi

Like Flying Lotus, a true one off. Gonjasufi takes acid rock as his template rather than futuristic beats (although they are there in the mix on some songs) and somehow manages to tell the whole story of modern music over his debut album without ever sounding retro. This record calls to mind the Stooges, Turkish psych, Issac Hayes and Monster Magnet and many many more. An excellent remix package (The Caliph’s Tea Party) was released off the back of it. For those who just want to hear something, well, different.
2. Swim - Caribou

The most blatantly enjoyable album of the year (the record I actually enjoy listening to most often comes second in these polls while I reserve first place for the one I consider the most ‘important’!). This record sounded good whenever I played it – on the train on Ipod, on a barge radio travelling through Holland, eating dinner in an Italian villa, live in Rough Trade records in East London... At least three euphoric singles (Odyssey, Sun, Bowls) but dig beneath and there is great experimentation here – Arthur Russell is an obvious reference point as is Four tet but Dan Snaith is continuing to plough his own furrow.
1. Cosmogramma – Flying Lotus

I suspect I might get some flak for picking this as my album of the year. It’s a muso’s album – deliberately difficult and ‘clever’ and it barely contains anything you might regard as a song. This though is a record that is all about texture and mood. Closer to 70’s free jazz than the post dubstep sound it is often associated with, Ellison is able to create a connection with his listener through snatches of harp, piano and vocal. The beats are sparse and harsh but from within them comes great beauty. It’s a record that is quite unique and I can envisage listening to it in ten years time by which time the rest of the pretenders might just have caught up (by which time Fly Lo will have moved on!).. I fully accept that this choice says more about where I am on my own musical journey than what might be regarded as the popular choice of a defining record but I was amazed at how little this was picked upon in the end of year magazine and web polls which shows that I’m not entirely in thrall to the critics!
The top 3 singles
3. Katie’s on a mission – Katie B

This category should contain at least one out and out pop single. This really caught my ear when I saw Katie supporting Magnetic Men. A great hook but rooted in credibility – like a modern Nenah Cherry singing along to Benga perhaps (he did produce it after all). Simple fun.

2. CMYK – James Blake

A sound of where British music goes next. Using cut up R&B vocals over modern electronic sounds from the London underground – rolling back and forth with shifting tempos to create a slightly disorientating experience. Expecting a great debut from this man in 2011.

1. Exhibit A/C – Jay Electronica
As one gets older it becomes so much harder for music to really blow you away – think about the first time you heard Public Enemy, Guns N Roses or the Arctic Monkeys...I had the same feeling when I heard Exhibit A which namechecks Barack Obama, Etta James and Kurt Voneggut (this was actually released in 2009 so I've chosen Exhibit C which is a little more soulful and equally as good). So far ahead of the rest of the hip hop field it’s scary. Calling to mind J Dilla, Wu and Nas with futuristic production and a voice to kill for – hip hop is back big style with Jay Electronica. All together now 'As we proceed....with what you need.....'

Merry Christmas and happy new year everyone - see you in 2011!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Hidden gem: The Exciting Sounds of Tomorrow - Pete Moore Orchestra (Fontana)

Many reading this blog will, I'm sure, have got behind the 'Cage against the machine' campaign to get John Cage's silent suite 4.33 to Christmas number one. As well as sticking it to the (white teethed) man this exercise has given the opportunity to reflect on the joy of space in sound. In a world where we are all increasingly busy, music which enables us to take time out and relax can be a treat indeed.

In the 1960's and early 1970's the desire for a non-challenging sound providing lifestyle accompliment manifested itself in the genre known as easy listening. Bacharach and David led the way and many others soon followed. Small orchestras (often linked to TV or film theme work) would produce whole albums of covers of the day and their own original material. Many sound very twee nowadays and fully justify ending up in charity shops but one are two are gems indeed. Alan Tew produced a number of excellent recordings (most notably covers of the Pink Panther and Pentangle's Night Flight) and Daley Wilson, Geoff Love and James Last also made some recordings of note. Another record worth hunting down is the Exciting Sounds of Tomorrow by the Pete Moore Orchestra.

Moore was a British arranger who worked with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Ted Heath among others and wrote string arrangements for London Weekend Television. He will be forever remembered for writing Asteroid, known to millions as the Pearl and Dean music ('Papah papah papa pa papapapah...')

If you are looking for hi-tempo then this album isn't the place. This is simply a record of smooth sounds of the day played really well. Jimmy Webb's all time classic Witicha Lineman kicks things off, its synthesized horns creating a sense of haunting nostalgia. The Beatle's Fool on the Hill soon follows - almost unrecognisable at first before a flute picks out the melody. A couple of Henry Mancini covers feature before Sinatra's It was a very good year. The real highlight of side one though is Windmills of my Mind. This track breaks out of mid pace and is played out as an up tempo bossa nova. Somehow this works and a song which I've generally always passed over is re-invented as a dancefloor monster.

Side two kicks off with Green Onions, less funky than the original and slowed down to give it a slightly regal feel,it's a good version. The funky vibe is maintained with Catwalk and Take 8 (both Moore original compositions) before the album signs off with a cover of You've made me so very happy. Unlike most albums of this type, this is an album you can happily sit and listen to from star to finish without it beginning to grate. Its also not impossible to track down so if you see it, snap it up!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Hidden gem: Away with Melancholy - The Natural Yoghurt Band (2007)

When one thinks of the rock and roll capitals of the world its fair to say that Nottingham isn’t exactly top of the list. OK, so it has infamous heavy metal venue Rock City but it’s fair to say that in terms of bands it’s not exactly threatening Manchester, Detroit and Berlin.

It is however the original home of one of the more interesting bands of recent years. The Natural Yoghurt Band combine a love of jazz, funk, prog and beats to create something that sounds retro but new, human yet electronic and for the head as well as the feet.

Made up of ex-Little Barrie drummer Wayne Fullwood and producer/musician Miles Newbold, The Natural Yoghurt Band have just released their second album Tuck in With. It was their first album Away with Melancholy which first caught my ear though. Released on double 10 inch vinyl (itself a statement of intent) on Jazzman records, they didn’t bother press releasing the album, preferring to let the music do the talking and I'm pleased to say it does.

The first thing that is apparent is that these guys have very good taste. Their debut brings to mind British library records, Australian jazz and legendary Californian producer David Axlerod for starters. The track Chit Chat in particular has the feel of one of Axlerod's productions with its funky drum beats and psychedelic harmonies (the only track that features human voice). Other parts of the album are reminiscent of classic jazz and easy listening but this isn't pure nostalgia, the production is sharp and clearly informed by hip hop. It is little surprise that Stone's Throw picked up on it and released it in the US.

Voodoo is a highlight - it phases in and has very little percussion but is quite lovely. It is quite electronic in atmosphere even though its clearly played on real instruments. Broken Rose meanwhile is more abstract and spacey. Organ and xylophone combine to create something that wouldn't be out of place on a library recording. Space echo is one of the funkiest tracks on display with sound effects layered onto the bass and drums and a moog solo to bring you home. This is the sort of space you would encounter if you watched the Clangers back to back for 72 hours first.

Away with Melancholy isn't necessarily a record full of innovation, high excitement or even variety but it carries a really nice vibe throughout. If you are the sort of person who likes to sit and appreciate the quality of the musicianship (the playing is exceptionally tight) with or without a jazz cigarette then you are likely to enjoy Nottingham's finest funksters.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The 20 greatest disco records

Disco was for many years dismissed as vacuous music. People missed the point, not realising that this was exactly what made it so good - a chance to forget the stresses and strains of the working week and lose yourself in the music for a few hours at least. In recent years (largely due to an increasing number of heavyweight books about the movement) it has been rehabilitated but due to the fact that many hits were one track wonders it is still difficult to identify the defining tracks. Having done considerable research in this space (I've listened heavily to disco for well over a decade now) I give you my definitive take on my favourites - some are established classics, some aren't well known but all have set dance floors alight. I've left out Go Bang by Dinosaur L and All over my Face by Loose Joints - both of which will upset the purists. If you disagree with my choices, why not leave yours (plus Youtube clips) at the end of the article? PS: If you're looking for Abba or the Village People you might be in the wrong place....

20. Class Action – Weekend

Legendary Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan recorded this with Christine Wiltshire. 11 minutes of anticipatory bliss. This was actually a cover of a previous disco tune by Phreek. Levan would often play this track several times in the same evening even though it hadn't been formally released - inevitably it became a Garage classic.

19. Saturday night - David Morris

A personal favourite this one. I picked it up for less than $5 on my last trip to New York. A track that captures the excitement of an impending night out on the town with a beautiful lady - youza!

18. Staying Alive -The Bee Gees

Falsetto alert! One of three number one hits from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack but that shouldn't detract from what a great track it is. Effortlessly funky - it just makes you want to strut...The movie was key in communicating the ethos of the disco movement to the mainstream.

17. Do what you wanna do – T-Connection

A favourite for everyone from Nicky Siano to Norman Jay. T-Connection were actually from the Bahamas but were based in Miami. They recorded four albums in all but this was by far their defining moment.

16. Love is the Message – MFSB

For many people the national anthem of disco and effectively David Mancuso’s theme tune. MFSB were Philly record’s house band. Rather than taking a standard song structure this instrumental piece took the listener on an atmospheric jazzy journey - an approach which would be repeated on numerous releases right through to the advent of  house music. This is arguably where the deep disco template was set.

15. The Love I Lost - Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

The definitive philly soul track and a huge hit in the clubs (most notably the Gallery) and on radio, reaching number 7 in the US charts. The track was originally recorded as a ballad but the musicians upped the tempo, with the drums in particular given more prominence and a disco classic was born. 

14. BRA - Cymande

This is a great example of the fact that disco doesn't always need to be an upbeat 4/4 beat (in fact some might argue it isn't disco at all). A British band, Cymande produced a number of classic tracks and albums but this is their defining movement. Jazzy horns give way to a deep funk groove and an irresistible dance floor filler. Famously sampled by De La Soul on 3 Feet High and Rising highlighting its impact on the hip hop community as well as the disco movement. Cymande have become increasingly influential in recent years and anyone who appreciates good music could do worse than seek out some of their classic seventies recordings.

13. Eminence front - The Who

Yes, the Who! This track was actually produced after disco peaked (in 1983) but is unbelievably funky. Roger Daltrey later claimed that this was the only track worth releasing of the It's Hard album. Thanks to Jake who tipped me off about this one.

12. I love you more - Renee and Angela

Danny Krivit's re-edit is the version to look out for. The atmospheric piano riff creates the framework for the guitar that follows. A classic example of less is more. Sampled by Notorious BIG on I love the Dough. Renee and Angela were lovers initially before realising that they were more effective as songwriting partners!

11. Space Bass – Slick

Not quite so well known this one as some of the others on this list although it reached number 16 in the UK charts. Slick were the rhythm section of Fat Larry's band and this track has been championed by DJs as diverse as Jeff Mills and Gilles Peterson..
10. Thinking of you – Sister Sledge

You can’t have a disco top 20 without both Sister Sledge and Chic and this track has both. Subtler than We are family and He’s the greatest dancer and better for it. The track carries Rogers and Edward's distinctive guitar and bass sound and somewhat bizarrely was later covered by Paul Wellar.

9. Spanish Hustle – Fatback Band

Not only did they arguably record the first ever rap single with King Tim III but they recorded some of the funkiest tracks ever set to wax - including this which was a UK top ten hit. There is a great steel drum re-edit to look out for too...

8. I feel love - Donna Summer

Perhaps a predictable choice but Georgio Morroder's 15 minute version is a bass driven masterpiece. The rolling , off key bass sound was achieved by altering the key of a Moog synthesizer and created a druggy, trancelike beat, offset by Summer's sexy vocal.

7. Love Hangover - Diana Ross

Ross was one of a number of established stars (Rolling Stones, The Who) who jumped on the disco bandwagon and did it more convincingly than most. Hooking up with Nile Rogers she scored hits with No-one gets the Prize, and eternal gay anthem I'm coming out but it is Love Hangover that is the real classic. Hangover was championed by Nicky Siano amongst others but it was on radio where this really broke through, its slow, sensual intro giving way to an infectious upbeat groove.
6. Say a prayer for two (US remix) - Crown Heights Affair

Crown Heights Affair took their name from a district of Brooklyn. This track is from their 1978 album Dream World. The track's driving bass and gospelly vocals manage to appeal to both funk and disco fans and we are subject to another superb breakdown. Make sure you get the US remix as its by far the best version (and the one played at both the Loft and the Garage).

5. Enjoy your life – Oby Onyioha

Disco spread worldwide with each nation fusing it with their own sounds.I give full credit for this one to legendary crate diggers Kon and Amir who unearthed this Nigerian disco classic on their Off Track volume 3 which came out earlier this year.  This, like the best disco, is effortless and insanely dancey.

4. Let no man put asunder – First Choice

‘It’s not over!’ – for obvious reasons makes a great tune towards the end of the night when the dancers are trying to squeeze just a few more songs in before having to go home. First choice were from Philly and recorded this in 1977, they scored another Loft favourite with Doctor Love.

3. Ain’t no Mountain High Enough – Inner Life.

Written by Ashford and Simpson, produced by Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael, vocals by Jocelyn Brown, remixed by Levan and released on Salsoul – this track is dripping disco royalty. Eleven minutes long, it has a huge breakdown about two thirds of the way in which, if the atmosphere is right, can take the roof off.

2. Girl you need a change of Mind – Eddie Kendricks

A huge Loft favourite. Ex-Temptation Kendricks recorded a number of classic disco tracks (including Levan favourite A date with the rain) but for me (and many others) the eight minute take of this track is the pinnacle of his work. Like many disco tracks its all about the breakdown – the tune is taken down to virtual silence before the instrumentation is gradually re-introduced and Eddie leads us back with the ‘never gonna change’ refrain.

1. Standing in the rain – Don Ray

What is so great about this song is that it seems to mark the exact point between funk which preceded it and house which followed. The synth waves at the outset send tingles down the back before the euphoric vocal leads us into ecstasy. Don Ray was actually Raymond Donnez and worked with Serge Gainsbourg and played keyboard on producer Cerrone's albums before eventually disappearing to France following his sole album. He was possibly last seen waiting on tables in a Paris restaurant. Some would argue that Got to have loving is his definitive track but for me this is not only his best track but the best of the whole disco era...

Friday, 26 November 2010

Review: Fela!, National Theatre, London

The theatre musical is not top of my list of ideal nights out. Cheery tunes to keep the spirits up and uplifting story lines with happy endings do much to please tourists and families but personally I've found them to be a thoroughly dispiriting experience unleashing my inner cynic (and I'm sure I'm not alone). OK, so there are exceptions (I did enjoy Avenue Q) but it would take a fairly unique series of circumstances to get me along.

Amazingly that unique series of circumstances has manifested itself in Fela! A stage musical based around the life of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti. Firstly, it focuses on an artist whose music I love. Second, the sheer size of Kuti's musical entourage allows for justifiable ensemble pieces. Third the subject matter is dark and racy (How would they deal with excessive marijuana use, prostitution, police intimidation and the frankly depressing outcome of the death of not only the main character but also his mother?) The show has already been a huge hit on Broadway and now arriving at London's National Theatre I had a deep desire to see it.

For those who don't know, Kuti was born in Nigeria in 1938 and following a radical upbringing and time in the UK and the USA he created his own fusion of American and African sounds to create a new hypnotic sound called Afrobeat. His relationship with the existing military regime in Nigeria upon his return became increasingly difficult as he spoke out against industrial corruption and exploitation of the people. This tension culminated in a raid on his compound by over 1000 police officers in 1977 which resulted in his mother being thrown from an upstairs window and killed. Kuti is fascinating on many levels - as a musical innovator, as a political radical, as a consumate lover (he notoriously married 27 women) and arguably as a bigot as he was strongly homophobic (this last angle perhaps unsurprisingly not covered in this particular production). Over a million people attended his funeral in 1997. Clearly this was a life full of incident and worthy subject matter for such an examination.

I'm pleased to report that the production is like the man himself - vibrant and uncompromising. The audience is drawn in immediately with Fela's posse congregating in the stalls and drifting through the audience before taking to the stage to perform a series of increasingly impressive dance routines. The first hour goes by in a blur as the stage is awash with colour and sound. The energy of the cast is electrifying and the blur of tap dancing, booty shaking, twirling and shadow boxing is a joy to behold.

Everything about the production is played to perfection. The set (a combination of Shrine memorabelia and black historical icons) is beautiful as are the primary colours of the costumes. The script is well paced and despite the need to pack in a wide range of subject matter, the narrative arc works well. The dancing, as already mentioned, is out of this world. The real highlight though is the performance of Sahr Ngaujah in the title role. Watching him you find yourself momentarily forgetting that this isn't actually Flea himself. The visual resemblance is uncanny and his ability, like Kuti's, to hold a crowd is captivating. There are also excellent supporting performances from Paulette Ivory and Melanie Marshall as his American lover and his mother respectively.

The first half of the production is particularly good. There is an excellent segment on Fela's voyage of musical discovery through listening to Tubby Hayes and John Coltrane while in London to his politicisation in America and these factor's contribution to the evolution of Afrobeat. The second half is inevitably darker with the focus on the police raid on his home following his writing of the classic Zombie and the death of his mother. Fela retaliates by placing her coffin on the steps of the Government building.

The show isn't flawless - there are a number of angles touched upon which aren't fully explored (most interestingly the conflict between the Afro-American and black Africa's own vision of Africa).  Aficionados of Afrobeat would also be critical of the cutting down of 15 minute long songs to about 5 minutes in order to keep the story flowing therefore sacrificing the opportunity to suck people into the hypnotic quality of the music. However, these issues are understandable - the show is almost 3 hours long as it is - to dig any deeper would be impossible if the broad story of Kuti's life is to be told. Those who love Afrobeat would be better served going to see one of the numerous Afrobeat bands (Femi Kuti's Positive Force or Antibalas for example) but this production will expose the wonderful legacy of Kuti to a much wider audience.

Any quibbles though are minor. This feels like a landmark production in both subject matter (to have a National Theatre audience giggling about sharing spliffs and inspecting shit feels strangely subversive) and performance (the sheer energy  and audience engagement transmitted is utterly captivating). This is a show worthy of the man himself and praise doesn't come any higher than that.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Inerview: Andrew Phillips, Grasscut

1 inch/1/2 Mile might just be one of the most interesting releases of the year. An album that is at once somehow familiar and yet undeniably new. This Ninja Tune duo (Andrew Phillips and Marcus O' Dair) are a world apart from modern British dance music, their electronic industrial rhythms and ambient broadcasts evoke the pits of South Wales, the hills of middle England and the immense landscapes of Scotland.Grasscut, like say Boards Of Canada or Aphex Twin, understand the need for humanity and nature in a world of machines. Using field recordings and recycled 78's they evoke a certain historical dimension, yet this is no retro trip with some of the most cutting edge sounds of the year in tracks such as Old Machines or Muppet (see below). I was fortunate to catch up with Andrew Phillips in advance of live dates across Europe. 

When did you first really get into your music?

I was in choirs and orchestras as a kid, got into songs and making ambient tapes as a teenager, worked as a film and TV composer after university.
How did Grasscut come about?

Marcus and I were on tour with another band, and I started making field recordings and tunes on my laptop, responding to things we were seeing around Britain. We got offered a couple of gigs off the back of those early tunes and it snowballed from there.
What's the vision behind Grasscut?

It's important that the music feels unfamiliar, experimental, not generic, and also emotional. I wanted to use a variety of voices from the past and present, to keep the sound changing.
You clearly have a sense of Englishness in your work. Is that a conscious decision?
Well all the songs are about Britain really - Sheffield shopping centres, Welsh mountains, Sussex Downs particularly. It's not conscious, as such, it's just where I spend most of my time. Not the shopping centres, actually.
You achieve a fine balance between nostalgia and innovation - which is most important in what you do?
I don't think using sounds and voices from the past is necessarily nostalgic - I always think of nostalgia as a bit self-indulgent, as though you're trying to revisit or recreate the past in some way. In Britain our past is everywhere - it's an old country, but at the same time, we're living with an unprecedented speed of change. For me, putting those old sounds and voices in a contemporary electronic musical context just feels right. It feels like now.

How do you work in the studio? What kit do you use?
Lots of live instruments and mics - harmoniums, pianos, gongs, drums, synths. I use an old version of Logic, Ableton, lots of little bits of software, max msp. And I use my phone a lot for vocals, or street recording.

The cover art is lovely - is that important to you?

Thank you. Yes, incredibly important. We were fortunate to work with Pedr Browne, a designer and all round renaissance man, who did the artwork, and helped design the walk map within. It really sets the right scene for the music.

How do you perceive reaction to your work?

We had almost universally lovely reviews of the album in the press and were delighted. I think sometimes it takes people a few listens to get it, and we don't expect everybody to like it, but if most people who hear it get it in some way as you intended it, that's great. 
I see you're doing live dates - how's that working out?

Gigs are really fun - quite hard to take something so layered out live initially, but we've come a long way already, and had some great gigs - we have a full video show that accompanies  the music too. we're playing lots in Europe and really enjoying it.
What next for Grasscut?

We've got some British shows coming up, and are going to Holland and Prague in the next few weeks. I'm working on the next album already, and we're touring in France next January February and March.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Hidden Gem: Red Light Don't Stop - The Elektrons

Masters At Work, The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, Bassment Jaxx...there is a rich history of house duos who have been able to snatch sounds from across the dance spectrum to become the defining sound of their city and generation. Manchester's Unabombers (Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford) are arguably worthy of the same comparison. Their Electric Chair night became renowned not only for its hedonistic spirit but also its eclectic music policy. Theo Parish, Mr Scruff, Gilles Peterson and many more guested at the night but it was the Unabombers themselves who ruled the roost. They were soon releasing compilations and mix Cd's and playing festivals around the world.

As with many DJs who find such fame, they turned their hand to production. They took on the moniker of Electrons and released their debut album in 2007. Red Light Don't Stop was certainly ambitious; combining house, disco, hip hop, dance and bass sounds to create a reasonable attempt at encapsulating most of the predominant dance floor sounds of the previous couple of decades. These were certainly tracks that worked on the dance floor (I had an immensely good evening dancing to most of the album when Luke played a set at London's Cargo just prior to the album's release) but the album holds up surprisingly well as a home listen too.

Opener Get Up sets things up nicely - using tasteful hip hop beats to create the sort of track that would get people dancing in a bar. Its no surprise that Greg Wilson contributed a re-edit of the track. Next up is a dance floor monster - Dirty Basement which recalls exactly that - a grimy crowded basement at 3am with everyone in the zone. The bass line is irresistible while the female vocal is both soulful and urgent. Another highlight is Classic Cliche - this like many tracks reveals a pop sensibility at play. Its interesting to note that this was my five year old niece's favourite song of the year! This tune and others lead one to wonder why this record didn't really crossover - while rooted in club culture there are enough strong melodies to appeal to even the most casual listener of urban music. My sense is that the media was fixated on the next big thing- be it glitch house or dubstep - judging that this sound had already peaked with Bugs In the Attic and Bassment Jaxx a few years earlier. In doing so, I think they missed a really good record.

Other tracks fly by in a soulful summer haze until the album closes with the epic Joy. Rainforest rythms give way to a tasteful house beat and one could see this being a New York classic if it had been constructed by Joe Claussell and his Sacred Rhythm crew rather than two blokes from Manchester. I'm sure Red Light, Don't Stop probably didn't make its creators millionaires but they can be justifiably proud of one of the better dance records of recent years.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Odds and Sods: Round-up October 2010

I pondered for sometime this week over which of a number of new releases that I'd listened to I would write about. Having failed to make a decision I've decided to write briefly about each of them. Given that I have readers who like a whole range of genres I hope there is something here for everyone...

First up, the latest from the constantly excellent Fruits De Mer records - a label that specialises in psyched up modern versions of classic tunes. For release 15 they've focused on the tunes of Eddie Cochran with covers from Baking Research Station, Head South by Weaving and label faves Vibravoid. All three tracks are instrumentals and sound way more from 1969 than 1959 e.g. very psychedelic and strung out (in a very good way) All Fruits De Mer releases are vinyl only and limited edition so get in there quick from

Next up, off the back of my bemoaning the lack of decent guitar music recently I decided to check out the latest by current media darlings Arcade Fire. To be honest, this left me a bit cold, the subtleties of their debut Funeral seem to have given way to a slightly bombastic U2-esque anthems - there is material to enjoy here but one can't help but speculate that this is ultimately music for sports jocks in stadiums. Far more enjoyable in my opinion is the new release from perennial stoner scousers The Coral. Butterfly House is retro for sure but it manages to zip between the late 50's, the late 60's and onwards to 70's California to provide an enjoyable romp through rock history and never loses an ear for a good tune.

Another genre I've moaned about in recent months is hip hop. One release that certainly is worth checking out is the third album by East Coast rapper Homeboy Sandman The Good Sun. Homeboy's rhymes bring to mind a young Eminem and the production throughout is inventive and fluid. This one hasn't really been picked up by the music press but if you like your hip hop and want to hear something new you could do a lot worse than this.

I want to like Joanna Newsom in theory but I find her work a bit too baroque and  labour intensive over a whole album. I much prefer a release from earlier this year by Manchester based Jane Weaver. Her longplayer The Fallen by Watch Word is a great psych-folk concept album that manages to be ethereal without being twee and combinines a traditional folk sound with more proggy guitar tracks. Weaver is the partner of DJ legend Andy Votel and he's produced an excellent mix combining Weaver's songs with 70's folk rock classics.

I must take this opportunity to mention Robert Wyatt. I've always been firmly of the view that the one song that should never be covered is Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. The original is so utterly moving with Armstrong's beautifully gravelly voice offsetting the sickly sweet strings. Wyatt (along with colleagues Ros Stephen and Gilad Atzman) has bravely taken the song on as part of a new album of jazz standards (he also covers In a Sentimental Mood and Round Midnight and At Last I am Free by Chic) and somehow he manages to carry it off. Wyatt has a sad, aged, tone to his voice which is at once full of beauty and of regret. Wyatt is still producing work of great invention (often using break beats as well as more conventional instrumentation) well into his 70's and he is a true one off. This album might not appeal to jazz purists (these are fairly conventional covers of jazz standards at first listen) but he carries the whole thing off through sheer force of personality and the emotion of that voice.

Finally - saving the best for last! I completely overlooked Hidden by Southend's These New Puritans early this year - dismissing it as indie nonsense. I should have known not to be so judgemental for this is undoubtedly one of the albums of the year. Managing to draw together classical instruments (oboe, trumpet, bassoon etc) with digital sounds and indie vocals this is a thrilling contradiction of classical and modern, indie and electronic, angry and sweet. For some reason it remonds me of Elbow's Seldom Seen Kid (as well as post Kid A Radiohead). Not because it particularly sounds like it (this is far more abstract) but it has that warmth of emotion so lacking in most modern british guitar music. I hesitate to call this guitar music as there is barely a guitar to be heard - you'll detect by now I'm struggling to describe it which is a very good thing - do yourself a favour and check it out - its very good indeed.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Live Review: Magnetic Man, The Trinity, Bristol

There are numerous examples of artists who have truly transcended their genre. No-one thinks of Massive Attack as just trip hop or the Chemical Brothers as big beat. They bridge the gap between their original genre and the mainstream to breakthrough to a new and much larger audience. As yet no-one has managed this in the genre of dubstep. Despite being one of the most influential sounds of the last decade its dark, bass driven sounds are some way from a guest appearance on Later with Jools Holland.

Without any shadow of a doubt, the act that are most likely to make this crossover are Magnetic Man. Essentially a supergroup of major dubstep producers, Benga, Artwork and Skream have united to create an album which has an ear on both the dancefloor and on home listening. When tickets for their UK tour went on sale back in the spring I knew it would be a hot ticket and snapped some up - this week their debut tour hit Bristol where I caught them.

Immediately upon arrival at the Trinity (a converted church) it was clear that this wasn't a typical dubstep crowd. There were teenagers through to fiftysomethings in attendance and I spotted AC DC and My Chemical Romance T-shirts as well as the regulation hoodie. What was most apparent was the large proportion of women - dubstep is widely regarded as blokes music but at least 40 per cent of the people here were female which I think bodes well for any assault on the charts.

The early evening DJs ripped up the usual selection of bass driven drum n bass and dubstep monsters. It was particularly good to hear Benga's classic Night getting an early airing.  Support act Katy B played more of a PA than a set - limited to just a handful of tunes. What she lacked in vocal force she made up for in sheer charisma, her melting pot of crustie dub, afrobeat, dancehall and rolling bass lines were all brought together nicely with strong pop hooks and she was thoroughly enjoyed by the crowd. Katy On a Mission was arguably the most enthusiastically received song of the whole night (not surprising when you realise over 6 million people have viewed it on Youtube) - expect her to kill it at the festivals next summer.

Magnetic Man hit the stage at about 10 and it soon became apparent to me that this is an act with a real dilemma. How do you maintain underground credibility while clearly seeking to reach a wider demographic? This proposition made for an hour of both strengths and weaknesses. The combination of slow burning bass monsters being punctuated with euphoric rave anthems and 'real songs' means that the band (collective?) are able to better pace the set than a DJ simply playing a series of one dimensional basslines, but, and its a big but, you can't help but wonder if they all actually believe in all the music they are playing. Earlier in the set in particular things feel a little disjointed - just as the crowd begins to dig the bass groove they find themselves faced with japanese style instrumentation - very nice at home but it leads to a lack of pace for an enthusiastic throng in Britain's bassline capital.

Things pick up in the second half of the set. I need air, a cheesy house number on record, certainly works better live with the audience shouting back the chorus with aplomb and the reintroduction of Katy B at the end of the set for Perfect Stranger is undoubtedly the highlight as she and Benga trade vocal and MC duties respectively. Katy is without question the star of the night and one wonders that if MM had used more vocalists (they used a fairly standard MC) the set might have been better balanced rather than be focused around one guest who takes all the glory (not that they seem to mind).

I suspect the Magnetic Man concept might not be around too long. All of its members are well respected producers in their own right and I wonder whether there is enough songwriting depth (which is needed if they are to progress to the next level) to sustain a longer career. Having said that a few hundred people left the Trinity last might having thoroughly enjoyed an evening of light and shade and for them at least that's enough.  For me, I think I'll find my dubstep kicks primarily elsewhere.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Madlib: An appreciation

Annie Mac famously argued that Flying Lotus was the Jimi Hendrix of the electronic generation. If that’s the case then Madlib is surely the Miles Davis. Always moving forwards, using mellow threads of ideas and invention to create tracks that leave others way behind. He is a DJ, mixer, remixer, rapper, producer and musician and is notoriously prolific – often releasing several albums a year.

Otis Jackson Jr (for that is he) was born in 1973 in Oxnard, California and has recorded as Quasimoto, Yesterday’s New Quintet and countless other aliases and has collaborated with Mos Def, De La Soul, Ghostface Killah, The Alkaholiks, Talib Kweli, MF DOOM and the late J Dilla to name but a few.

He began making music in his hometown with the group Lootpack in the early 1990s, an act who worked with another well known troupe the Alkoholics. His father, a respected jazz musician, started an independent label (Crate Diggas Palace Records) in 1996 to promote the crew and Lootpack soon caught the attention of Peanut Butter Wolf at Stone’s Throw who signed them up. Their debut LP introduced the signature Madlib style to the world as well as the character Quasimoto. A dark but amusing character that Madlib has turned to again and again throughout his career.

His first release under the guise of Quasimoto The Unseen was in 1999. The album, recorded while Madlib was on mushrooms, was met with critical acclaim and was regarded in hip hop circles as the album that showed a way out of the Golden Era of Hip Hop and onwards into unchartered waters. It was undoubtedly one of the albums of the decade and Quasimoto was named as Hip Hop Connection's Newcomer of the Year. The distinctive high-pitched voice of Lord Quas attained by playing the original beat at a slow speed, recording the vocals over that slow speed, then speeding the vocals along with the original beat back up to its original tempo really set him apart from his peers and most other modern music. The album contained a sense of humour which was both refreshing and lacking in much current hip hop and while not a huge seller, it raised Madlib’s credibility and there has been a buzz around him ever since.

It soon became apparent that Madlib was not only a notorious weed smoker but an obsessive beat digger with immensely varied tastes that covered genres as wide as latin, bollywood, psych, reggae, soul and jazz. In 2001, he took a turn away from hip hop per se, releasing his first Yesterdays New Quintet LP, Angles Without Edges. This moniker had a much more jazz influenced sound and was followed by a tribute to Stevie Wonder in 2002. This was a far sloppier and dirtier take on the interface of jazz and hip hop than say Guru’s Jazzmatazz series. His first album under the name Madlib, released in 2002, was a collection of old dub tracks. The second, Shades of Blue followed in 2003. The album features original Blue Note recordings, some remixed and resampled, and some replayed. The highlight is perhaps Ronnie Foster’s Mystic Brew which is time-stretched into double time.

2003 heralded the first of two collaboration projects. Working with the late hip hop producer J Dilla, Jaylib released Champion Sound. He then hooked up with MF DOOM for a record that features some of his best rhyming. The 2004 Madvillany album was well-received, topping many critics' year-end lists. For years, rumours of Madvillainy 2 and Jaylib 2 have circulated and there is talk that Madvillany 2 is imminent. His third two-volume Beat Konducta album, released in early 2009 Beat Konducta Vol 5-6: A tribute to is a 42-track piece dedicated to Dilla.

The 2005 Quasimoto album, The Further Adventures of Lord Quas was fairly well regarded but not really a patch on the first Quasimoto album by common consensus. It did however feature his hero Melvin Van Peebles (who he had extensively sampled on The Unseen. This was followed by a YNQ album called Sound Directions: The Funky Side of Life, marking his first collaboration with session musicians.

New Years Eve 2006 saw a a digital release Liberation with Talib Kweli while in August 2007 an instrumental hip hop album containing songs sampling the music of India(Beat Konducta Vol 3-4: Beat Konducta in India) was released. Another notable recording in the same year was Perseverance by Percee P which he produced in its entirety.

Yesterdays Universe completed the cycle of releases by Yesterdays New Quintet and introduced a new collection of artist names created by Madlib: The Jazzistics, The Young Jazz Rebels, Suntouch, The Jahari Massamba Unit, Kamala Walker & The Soul Tribe, The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble, The Yesterdays Universe All-Stars, The Otis Jackson Jr. Trio, and The Eddie Prince Fusion Band. A number of these names have now got releases under their own names. The Last Electro-Accoustic Space Jazz record Miles Away is particularly good – playing homage to some of the greats of jazz.

He continues to move forwards – creating not only his own music but bringing out the best in others. He produced stand out tracks on both Erykah Badu’s and Mos Def’s recent albums (The Healer and Auditorium respectively). He is currently rumoured to be working with Kanye West on his new album.

In 2009, Jackson started Madlib Medicine Show, half based on unreleased original material, half based on mixes. This project consists of one record being released every month in 2010 - 6 original albums and 6 mixes – odd numbers consisting of original tracks and even numbers DJ mixes, prolific output by anyone’s standards. This has included his first foray into disco with Medicine Show 10.

In addition, he has undertaken a collaboration with Detroit rapper Guilty Simpson, called OJ Simpson and it is believed that he is currently working on the 3rd Quasimoto album, the 2nd Madvillain album with MF Doom, a project with Karriem Riggins in a Jaylib type of collaboration called Supreme Team, as well as other jazz records from the Yesterdays Universe imprit. There is no lack of material to emerge for sure.

One could argue that Madlib has yet to release a masterpiece album (although The Unseen is undoubtedly one of the most innovative hip hop albums of all time in many people’s opinions) but to expect him to do so almost misses the point. For Madlib the quest is for constant innovation, taking threads of ideas to create something new and then to move on to something else. His ability to unearth the rarest of samples and use them to create a memorable melody is unmatched (see his use of an old Bollywood sample on Mos Def’s Auditorium for example) and his albums and mixes often take the listener on a bizarre and fascinating journey of snatched samples across musical genres. His quality control is undoubtedly questionable and his studio techniques could even be deemed sloppy at times (often using simple technology) but in a strange sort of way this adds to his charm as a human dimension is clearly at play in his work. Perhaps Stone’s Throw could improve his oerall catalogue by limiting his releases but to do so would restrict the man’s prodigious talent and so we see his work warts and all. Madlib is never boring or predictable and for that reason alone he is unique and to be cherished.

For an excellent mix of Quasimoto material by DJ Troubl go here

Friday, 15 October 2010

Interview with David Best, Fujiya and Miyagi

There are very few bands who are really unique - pretty much everyone has influences that filter through into their own sound. One act that I think is more unique than most are Brighton's Fujiya and Miyagi. OK, so you can occasionally hear the motorik bass of Can or Neu somewhere in their sound but this backing underpins hypnotic synth melodies and lyrical content about breaking bones, knickerbocker glories and photocopiers. The overall effect is one which brings to mind shoegazing, acid house, chanson pop, krautrock and synth pop into one glorious whole.

They've released three albums to date - each representing a massive step forward in sound. Debut, Electro Karaoke in the Negative Style was released in 2002. Transparent Things (2006)was undoubtedly one of the best albums of that year with its hooky melodies and hypnotic vocal loops and Lightbulbs (2008) saw another step change with the double a-side Um/Knickerbocker Glory receiving extensive airplay and critical acclaim. The band are currently recording the follow-up, tentatively named Ventriloquizzing. I was lucky enough to grab the band's vocalist and guitarist David Best for a quick chat.

It’s been a while now since Lightbulbs, how’s the recording of new material going?

We are really pleased with how this record went. We worked with a producer (Thom Monahan) for the first time. After we had demoed the songs in Brighton we recorded the record in Sacramento and at Thom's studio in LA. That was at the end of 2009 and this year has been spent mixing it and getting it exactly how we want it to sound.

The last album seemed to be a real move forward from Transparent things in that you seem to have developed your own identifiable sound (Transparent Things perhaps being more obviously Kraut influenced). Will the new material continue in the direction of Lightbulbs?

Well, that was the aim with Lightbulbs, we tried to make our influences less transparent. I don't think it was a complete success, but it was in the right direction. Hopefully this record really does sound like its own thing. In a lot of ways it’s very different from anything we have done before. It’s fuller sounding and more musical.

What are your key reference points for the new material? I see you’ve been watching Dead of Night...

I only saw Dead of Night after we had finished the record, but with the ventriloquist dummies we had made of ourselves it seems appropriate. There weren't really any musical reference points with this record. Maybe Iggy's The Idiot, but that’s mainly due to using the Arp Solina synth on a lot of the songs. I guess what I'm getting at is that the direction of the record was dictated by the sounds we used rather than by the influence of other specific records we like.

Lyrically you’ve always pulled in a wide range of subject matter – and a lot of it seems to be fairly observational of modern life. How do you write?

I've got lots of notebooks which I carry around with me and if I hear a nice phrase or think of a good line I'll put it down and come back to it later. Then fitting them together is a bit like a puzzle. I tried to write a bit differently on this record. Before, I'd get a title or an idea for a lyric then follow that to its conclusion. This was OK but I felt sometimes the results were a bit one-dimensional. If the listener can instantly get what the song is about, I think he or she is going to get tired of it quicker. On most of the songs from this record I tried to leave the words hanging in the air more. They are deliberately vague in places. I don't like preachy lyrics that tell people what they should think. It’s better to describe a situation or how someone acts without it being in front of a billboard with right or wrong painted on it.

Do you lay down tracks quickly in the studio or is it a meticulous process?

Initial ideas always seem to be pretty quick but turning them into records is a meticulous process. Steve and Thom worked really hard at this. I enjoy the initial idea more than the tidying up.

What kit do you use?

On this record we used an Arp Solina String Synth, a guitar triggering the Korg MS 20, Nord Wave, Mini Moog, Pro Tools, numerous guitar pedals and quite a bit of piano. There is also a cork rattling around a metal tin on one of the songs, which was Thom's idea. It strangely sounds really good.

Your cover art is clearly important to you – anything sorted for the new album yet?

Yes. An artist called Jirayu Koo has done the artwork for Ventriloquizzing. I think it looks great. Before Jirayu got involved I thought the the cover would look good in a Tadanori Yokoo style, but once we saw her work we thought her style would suit the record best.

You strike me as quite unique. E.g. You don’t really sound like anyone else at the moment. Is there anyone else you rate right now?

Thanks. I've been listening to Matias Aguayo's ay ay ay quite a lot. I like Jamie Lidell and I am always interested in what Beck does. I'm enjoying the new Arp record too. I do mainly listen to older things though. I'm getting a bit obsessed with Terry Riley's music, especially the more electronic sounding stuff like Lifespan and Persian Surgery Dervishes. That Jacky Chalard record on Finders Keepers is another current favourite, as well as the Shangaan electro compilation and Charanjit Singh's ten ragas to a disco beat. I don't know if that’s reflected in our music or not. I suspect not. When we were making Lightbulbs I was just listening to RnB and 60s soul music, and Lightbulbs doesn't sound anything like either of them.

Any live shows planned?

We've got a handful at the beginning of December in London Paris and Lisbon. We won't be touring properly until next year once the LP is out.

What’s the scale of your ambition for the band. I assume you aren’t too bothered about Radio 1 daytime airplay for example!

I want the group to do well and for people to hear it, but I think if you make a good record that will happen anyway, and if you don't it won't. I'm not the best at self-promotion I must admit.

Fujiya & Miyagi are set to release their fourth album 'Ventriloquizzing' in January 2011 via Full Time Hobby and headline London ICA on the 1st December.

Download new track 'Sixteen Shades Of Black and Blue' here:

Friday, 1 October 2010

The 20 best psychedelic folk songs

The golden era of acid folk was the late sixties and early seventies when the folk musicians who had come to prominence earlier fused their sound with the predominant sound of the day – psychedelia. Arguably America led the way, first with Dylan going ‘electric’ then the artists of the West coast such as Moby Grape and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The UK soon followed with Donovan and then Fairport Convention’s Meet Me On The Ledge taking the traditional folk sound and injecting it with modern instrumentation to create a new fusion which appealed to a younger market. Others soon followed - The Pentangle, Mellow Candle, Trees, and Mr Fox were just a few who were happy to incorporate jazz, rock and psychedelia into their sound with varied results. There are countless examples - many acts disappearing after an album or two but here are twenty of my favourites - do leave yours in the comments boxes below. I've sought to cover both the US and the UK/Irish scenes. If you want to secure some of these tracks relatively easily pick up one of the following compilations - Folk is Not a Four Letter Word (Volumes 1 and 2)- Various Artists, A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble exploding in your mind (Volumes 1 and 2) - The Amorphous Androgynous and Feel the Spirit compiled by Mark Pritchard.

20. By the Sea - Wendy and Bonnie

Famously sampled by Super Furry Animals for the track Hello Sunshine. Californian Wendy and Bonnie released their debut (and only) album Genesis when aged 17 and 13 respectively. The album reflected dominant sounds of the time (Simon and Garfunkel, Mamas and the Papas etc) but the label they were on (Skye) went bust after the album's release and, like so many folk artists of the time, this remained buried treasure until a new generation discovered it.

19. Spin Spider Spin - Peggy Zeitlin

Johnny Trunk deserves the credit for tracking this one down. It featured on his Fuzzy Felt Folk compilation a few years ago. Half child's lullaby, half creepy horror song it certainly grabs your attention. Its actually from an American child's education recording and no-one - not even Johnny - has been able to track Peggy down.

18. Mendle - Mr Fox

Fuzzy guitar and Hammond organ combine to create a frenzied recording allegedly about the killing of a woman in an occult ritual. Mayhem somewhat reminiscent of the band's own career. They only lasted two years due to the fact that driving force Bob Pegg had an affair with his children's nanny (his wife Carole was the band's vocalist) who in turn was the girlfriend of the bassist Barry Lyons - messy. Still, this is an excellent example of the darker side of the folk sound.

17. Me and my woman - Roy Harper

One wonders if Roy Harper had died early whether he would now garner the same respect as Nick Drake. Undoubtedly an excellent songwriter and a huge influence on other musicians of the time. This track is from 1971's Stormcock album an album revered by Johnny Marr among others.

16.Stargazer - Shelagh McDonald

The story of Shelagh McDonald is fascinating. A Scottish vocalist, she recorded two albums before abruptly disappearing for the next thirty years. She eventually re-emerged in 2005 claiming that following a bad LSD trip she had been living a nomadic lifestyle living in a combination of houses and tents. This is the title track of her second album and is quite beautiful.

15. Hey who really cares - Linda Perhacs

One has to wonder if any folk star from this era achieved any degree of financial success. Linda Perhacs was yet another who recorded one album, became a dental technician for the next thirty years and then was rediscovered. This ode to loneliness was a stand out track from her Parallelograms debut. In recent years she has started recording again and describes herself as 'equal parts mystic, musician, schoolteacher, earth mother and Pollyanna....'

14. River Man - Nick Drake

Nick Drake has gone from underrated folk troubadour to national treasure in the last decade. His sound, although generally regarded as folk, took jazz stylings in particular to create work of great beauty. This is an excellent example.

13. The Sea - Fotheringay

One of a number of tracks on this list featuring the unique talents of Sandy Denny who was also vocalist for Fairport Convention. This was her own post-Fairport band and this is one of her original compositions on the album. Denny later famously sang on Led Zeppelin's Battle of Evermore as well as having a mildly successful solo career before her death in 1978 after falling down a staircase.

12. Witches Promise – Jethro Tull

A controversial choice perhaps but Jethro Tull were one of the first to combine a traditional folk sound with the pervading classic rock sound. I discovered this track at university whole going through a prog rock phase and its always been a favourite – flutes ahoy!

11. Wooden Ships – Christine Harwood

A cover of the Crosby, Stills and Nash song. This version featured on her much sought after album Nice to meet you Miss Christine which featured guest spots from members of King Crimson, Rainbow and Yes. What really appeals about this version is the arrangements which lift it from standard soul or folk so something on a much more spiritual level.

10. Magician in the Mountain – Sun Forest

Like a number of the tracks listed here this track was made widely available by Global Communication’s Mark Pritchard on his influential Feel the Spirit Compilation. It has since also featured on the Amorphous Androgynous’ Huge Psychedelic Brain compilations. A number of the other tracks on Sun Forest's only album were featured in Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange.

9. Meet me on the Ledge – Fairport Convention

The track that shifted Fairport's career from west coast copyists to the forefathers of British folk Rock. Their following two albums (Unhalfbricking and Liege and Lief) are arguably two of the most important albums in British musical history.

8. Rosehip November– Vashti Bunyan

The story of Vashti Bunyan is well enough known not to have to repeat it here. This stand out track from her debut album Just Another Diamond Day has a real sense of loss and autumnul reflection.

7. Silver Song - Mellow Candle

Signed by Simon Napier Bell as teenagers, Mellow Candle's debut and only album Swaddling songs has been known to net over £500. This stand out track was covered by All About Eve among others.

6. She moved Thro' the fair – Trees

This traditional track was covered by many artists in the late 1960's/early 1970s as well as everyone from Boyzone to Rolf Harris later. It starts with a riff familiar to many fans of Led Zeppelin as White Summer and then moves into territory reminiscent of Belfast child by Simple Minds! Despite that its an excellent example of mellow folk rock and of how traditional English songs were being adapted for new audiences. The album its on (The Garden of Jane Trellawny) is one of two the band recorded and an absolute corker.

5. The Witch – Mark Fry

Like Susan Christie and Vashti Bunyan, Mark Fry had to wait for some time for recognition. He recorded his debut Dreaming with Alice in 1972 but the album was only released in Italy. Sitars and Lutes are introduced to the singer songwriter dimension of the record and its all produced in such a way that it has a really earthy but eerie quality - slightly reminiscent of Donovan perhaps. The reissued album on Sunbeam records is highly recommended.

4. Feel the spirit - Heaven and Earth

Like a number of the female artists here, Pat Gefell (now Dennison) of this duo still records. The accoustic guitar and flute really create a sense of being 'close to nature' without sounding twee. The note hit at about 2.57 hits a great peak before a funky drumbeat kicks in - folk funk at its best!

3. Winter's Going - Bonnie Dobson

Certainly one of the darkest songs on this list - essentially a story of revenge on an ex-lover. Bonnie was Canadian born but made her home in the UK, eventually working in the philosophy department of the University of London. This was a stand out track from her 1969 debut LP. The album can be picked up cheaply and also includes Morning Dew which was widely covered.

2. Paint a Lady - Susan Christie

Essentially a ‘lost’ recording until re released just a few years ago by the excellent Finders Keepers reissue label. Christie was from Philadelphia and had secured a novelty hit single with a track called I love onions before recording a superb album of folky country songs. This is the title track and it's lyrics paint a strangely colourful picture of the mundainity of the modern labour market

1. Light Flight – The Pentangle

‘Lets get away, you say...away from the city race’ As near as acid folk got to a hit single, Light Flight perfectly illustrated the desire to escape the pace and scale of urbanisation so desired by politicians of the day. Originally written to accompany TV series Take Three Girls. Jacqui McShee’s haunting wail soars over a funky rhythm section to create three and a half minutes of folk perfection.