Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Hidden gem: Senay - Senay (EMI) 1980

In recent years there has been a growing interest across the record buying community of the Turkish psych-folk scene of the 1970’s. Reissue labels – most notably Manchester’s Finders Keepers - have brought artists such as Selda, Baris Manco and Ersen to wider attention – the combination of fuzzy guitars and eastern instrumentation striking a cord with many DJs and listeners who want something outside the UK/USA axis of musical history. This has inevitably encouraged record diggers to look elsewhere within Turkish musical history to see if there are other unearthed gems.

I took a trip to Istanbul myself last year and spent much of my time combing through shops and market stores for such a gem. The reality was that much of the stock was in very poor condition – scratched and sleeveless – and when I did uncover treasure it was priced accordingly. On only one occasion did I find a stash of records by the artists I had identified only for the owner of the place to check out the going rates on ebay and charge me accordingly...

The best place I found was just off Istiklal Cadessi (Istanbul’s Oxford Street) near Balic fish market. Here was an arcade full of small book and record shops – not dis-similar to Walthamstow’s Wood Street Arcade for those who’ve been there. I met some really nice local guys in one shop who spotted an English need for fuzzy Anatolian folk and talked me through a few pieces of wax. As we talked the time slipped away and the genres of music widened. As regular readers of this blog know I’m a disco aficionado and he passed me a record by Senay. Its fair to say that i’d not heard of Senay but this sounded interesting indeed. I parted with about a tenner for it (along with a few other items)and took it home.

Upon my return I took a proper listen and my initial instincts had been good (that sinking feeling when you realise something you’ve listened to in a shop just ain’t that good is a killer). While obviously a commercial sound this was very passable disco. The obvious entry point was a slightly bonkers version of Rod Stewart’s Do you think i’m sexy? but plenty more was worth a listen – not least lead off track Honki Ponki – which I would guess given its availability on Youtube etc was the single. Less good were the following two tracks but the closing track on side one - Hayat bayram olsun was a real treat.It has a driving beat that a few of the other tracks lack and its spaced out intro and warped breakdown immediately appealed. The album as a whole is chock a block with early 80's synth sounds - somewhat reminiscent of a Georgio Morroder soundtrack at best or Hall and Oates at worst - sure, these make the album sound dated in places but it does create a certain wierdness...

Side two starts well with Dalkgvuk - a catchy chorus and horn stabs lifting this above Eurovision fare, while second track Sarkilar reminds me of Love Unlimited Orchestra with its easy strings. Next up is Bent Yasimi (or Do you think I'm sexy) - its actually quite faithful to the original but because its sung in Turkish it sounds suitably wierd and actually Senay's best vocals are on this track. Finally Doy doy Doymadim - another treat - experimental synths and a slow sleazy groove gove way to a lovely chorus and you can almost imagine yourself sailing up the Bosphorus...

So in conclusion its not a classic but neither is it entirely a guilty pleasure - its really interesting to hear how disco was adopted in Turkey and in parts at least there is some good stuff here. You're unlikely to find it in the UK but if you happen to be in Istanbul (which I thoroughly recommend as a cheapish but culturally significant holiday) then seek it out!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Interview with Guy Morley - Artistic consultant on Africa Soul Rebels

African acts have gained much coverage in the last few years. Amadou and Mariam have recently recorded with Manu Chau and Damon Albarn and the Africa Express events have brought acts like Franz Ferdinand and Magic Numbers onto the same stage as Tinariwen and Toumani Diabate at Glastonbury and beyond. Africa Express itself was set up partly in response to the failure of Live 8's organisers to properly involve African Acts in 2005 but things seem to be begining to change as bands like Vampire Weekend blatantly incorporate African highlife rythms into their sound and take it to the top of the pop charts while acts such as Staff Bendi Bilili and the aforementioned Tinariwen are staging their own theatre tours around the UK.

Much of this success must be down to the annual African Soul Rebels tour which selects three acts each year to tour together for a minimal ticket price so that people can see the very best that the continent has to offer. Having been to a number of these events myself I can testify to the superb musicianship and fantastic performances that these events provide. This year's tour kicks off this week with one of its strongest line-ups yet featuring Mali's Oumou Sangare, the mighty Orchestre Poly Rythmo from Benin and the Kalahari Surfers from South Africa. I caught up with Guy Morley who is the artistic consultant for Music Beyond Mainstream who stage the tour.

African Soul Rebels has been running for six years now – what inspired you to put on such a tour?

The idea came from a meeting of venues, music agents, record labels and promoters. We all thought that African Music needed to be brought out from the ‘world music’ niche. If it was to develop bigger audiences and cross over – it needed to be called what it was – ie great rock, hip-hop, afrobeat, pop etc.

What is your philosophy in putting the tour together?

The idea is to bring a wide range of music and style that show the diversity of African popular music.Pushing African issues to the for front – challenge a few preconceptions about Africa – and finally show Africa is nearly 60 counties – more than a thousand languages and is much richer, in many ways, than we might first think.

How do you choose the acts each year?

We look for a balance and a line up that makes for a sum of more than its parts. for example – someone new and upcoming even if they are a band who have been around for 45 years like Poly Rythmo this year. Although they might be a big name now - when we toured Amadou and Mariam they were only just starting to break through and had never toured the UK. An established name artist who wants to challenge the way they are perceived.Salif Kieta toured a project that fused an American country sound into his music for his ASR tour. Oumou Sangare will find a new audience who love her music this year. Then we try to find the unexpected – great Afro Hip Hop from Awadi or Daara J – Benga Rock Fusion from Extra Golden or this year Electronica from Kalahari Surfers.

Who do you think has provided the defining performance over the years in your opinion?

In the team that puts these things together we all have our favourites.Time and place are important too. For some it’s afrobeat like Femi Kuti and Tony Allen – for others it’s the acoustic beauty of Baaba Maal or Salif Kieta.

Do you think African music has reached a ‘tipping point’ in recent years with breakthrough acts like Mariam and Amadou and Salif Kieta?

Let’s not take it for granted because there is a fashion cycle to it all. We are pleased that ASR gets press and people like the idea. There are so many great artists out there – and so many who have been forgotten – that all of us involved in ASR feel the need to push the envelope a little further.

This year you’ve secured Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo de Cotonou who have only very limited experience of playing in Europe despite a long and successful career. Was it difficult to secure them – is it a risk putting them on?

Timing is important – and it was the right time for Poly Rythmo this year. In bringing a band like them we need an audience who supports ASR not just the people who come for one artist or another. I try to talk to as many people as I can – at gigs to find out what they think. I’m so happy when I find people who haven’t been to an African concert before – or who have come not knowing much about the artists. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people come away from this year’s concerts feeling that have discovered a great new artist like Poly Rythmo – That’s got to be worth any risk.

Is the tour financially sound or is it a real struggle to break even?

Everyone invests in the tour. It’s a huge logistic to tour over 30 people round the UK. Artists, who often get paid well in the rest of Europe, do it for much less money, venues don’t always break even – They do it to develop audiences and their profiles and to support great artists. Music Beyond Mainstream puts in quite a bit of subsidy from Arts Council England – so Yes – it’s always a well worth while struggle to break even.

Have you considered an Asian Soul Rebels or Latin Soul Rebels?

We have and one day we might –In the mean time we have to work out; is the world big enough for more than one Soul Rebels idea? and will we dilute it by spreading it too far?

So there you have it - if you've not been to one of these events there are still a few tickets left so dig out the cost of a CD and go see some truly life afirming performances!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Legendary labels: Fruits De Mer - Interview with Andy Bracken

They say small is beautiful and that’s certainly true of Fruits De Mer records. Co-run by Andy Bracken and Keith Jones the label has released only eight 7” singles since its inception in 1715 (at least that’s what their website says) yet their sheer quality control in both musical content and in packaging is second to none.

Specialising in the sort of acid folk and psych rock which are so in vogue right now they specialise in limited edition EPs of cover versions and have recorded artists as diverse as ‘lost’ folk troubadour Mark Fry and Cranium Pie (who have featured heavily on the critically acclaimed Monsterous Psychadelic Bubble compilations by Amorphous Androgynous). Artists covered include the Small Faces, Pink Floyd and (somewhat bizarrely) Mark Fry covering himself. The combination creates genuinely forward thinking versions that build on the original compositions. Furthermore, each volume comes with special inserts including posters and free gifts and each is pressed on beautiful coloured vinyl. Too good to be true? I caught up with Andy to find out more...

Why did you set Fruits de Mer up?

Andy Bracken - I was already running a label (Bracken Records), which focuses on original material by new artists. I’d known Keith for a decade or more, and, over many pints of bitter, we’d discussed the notion of starting a joint label for a while. But we wanted an angle. The initial idea was to re-release obscure 60s and early 70s stuff on vinyl, but it became clear the copyright owners of that material were never going to let us gain access to source material. So, I came up with the concept of getting contemporary bands to cover some of our favourite tracks. Keith grasped the potential, and a monster was born…and Keith’s missus, Liz, chose the name, because it’s her favourite dish (she loves a winkle or two…).

You have an eclectic approach – covering all styles from psych to folk to kraut – what is your label philosophy and how do you decide what to put out?

Andy Bracken - Yeah, I suppose we do. It comes about via the dynamic involved – ideas bounced around between Keith, the band and myself. Keith and I have a meeting of minds and tastes on psych stuff, really, and Kraut (anything on the Green Brain label gets us salivating). But beyond that, Keith is more the Prog side, and I’m more folk.

Take the US & THEM EP we’ve just done: the band suggested ‘Julia Dream’, and Keith loves his post-Syd Floyd. I recalled reading how Roger Waters had ‘borrowed’ the melody for ‘Julia Dream’ from the traditional lullaby ‘All The Pretty Little Horses’, so suggested the two tracks could be merged. Thankfully, Us & Them like the fuzzy-felt nursery-rhyme angle on records, so the concept was born…and they nailed it – a really beautiful record, that one. The point is - it was the dynamic that made it possible, if that makes sense. Kind of like that thing about ‘the whole being greater than the sum of its parts’.

The philosophy, I suppose, is to cover tracks from the era 66-73, but identify potential between the artist and the track. There’s no sense in banging out a reverential cover – it has to bring something to the party. Thus, the song has to be malleable, and the band has to be somewhat visionary. No real restrictions, though – who knows, maybe we’ll cover some old Blues stuff, or some obscure rockabilly tracks in the future…I’d like to.

Your packaging is always excellent – is that something you like to focus on?

Andy Bracken - Ha! Thank you. It simply came about because we had no budget for artwork. That always forces you to be creative. And we like to slip extra stuff in, such as posters and daft inserts and whathavya – anything we can get for next to nothing, seems to be the philosophy. The magic fish in Volume 3 were down to Jonesy – genius, that was!
We get help on design where we can – if a member of the band has an artistic thing, we encourage them to use it, and, if not, I pull something together. The artwork is the thing I worry about the most, so it’s nice to hear that. I do the labels most of the time, as well.

You focus heavily on cover versions – is this simply because they are songs the artists love or is it to create an entry point for artists other material?

Andy Bracken - Yep, that’s the idea behind the label. It was a bit nerve-racking at first. We’re like everyone else out there, and it’s almost sacrilegious to try to cover Nick Drake, for example. The only reason I let that track (Day Is Done) be done was because it was Alison O’Donnell (Mellow Candle), who was on the scene at the same time as Drake, and similarly struggled to find the recognition she deserved back then. It almost seemed kind of apt, in the end.

And yes, the hope is that customers might delve into the bands on the back of the covers they do for us. Also, I’ve noticed we have a healthy group of younger customers, who it would be nice to think are discovering exciting music from the past via these more contemporary bands.

What’s next for Fruits de Mer?

Andy Bracken - More releases, and we’re stepping up to albums soon, with some concept to them. Always vinyl. Always coloured. And I’m determined not to let things get out of hand. We’re getting bigger and bigger with every release, and have pretty much sold out of everything, but finding a balance between popular, and keeping it like a club or family, is paramount. We have some wonderful customers, and I’d hate to lose that interaction with them. You know, we’re not in this for money, quite frankly, and as long as we just about recover cost, we’re happy to carry on. Hope you’ll continue joining us on our merry trip…

So that’s it – except to say – if you want to check the label out, they have a great website at

Monday, 1 February 2010

Album review: Heligoland - Massive Attack (Virgin)

My last brush with Massive Attack was in 2006 when they played the ghastly O2 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park. They headlined that night, following the psychadelic carnival of Flaming Lips - a band who had no shame in covering Bohemian Rhapsody during their set and somehow pulling it off. By comparison the 3D led Massive were bleak. Dense guitar led songs with monotinous vocals dominated while random numbers were projected off the sides of the stage. Enjoyable it wasn't and there was a real sense that the band (collective?) had finally lost its way with the departure of Daddy G and the recently released and poorly recieved 100th Window album.

It was with some trepidation and a certain degree of indifference therefore that I approached their latest offering. There is nothing worse than a band you truly believed in delivering below par material which in some way damages their legend. Let us not forget that Massive Attack's legend is greater than most - delivering Blue Lines - perhaps the definitive album of 90's multicultural Britain and a number of subsequent albums which, while not redefining modern soul music, have at least sustained it.

Opening track Pray for Rain strikes me as an odd choice as a statement of intent. Sung by TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe it is subtle and understated and lacks the impact of say Safe from Harm or Angel which opened previous long players. Having said that, at its heart is a lovely pop song and its dubby bass and jungle drums bring to mind Karmacoma which can't be such a bad thing.

Less good is Splitting the Atom, a duet between 3D and Daddy G. Its nice enough but doesn't really go anywhere. Unfortunately this is true of a number of the 3D led tunes on the album and for me the tracks with guest turns (with the exception of Martina Topley Bird's two underwhelming contributions) far outshadow the likes of Rush Minute and Atlas Air.

The Horace Andy contribution Girl I love you has a fantastic throbbing bass and would have made a good opener - it lacks the magestic sweep of say Angel but its post punky guitars could well make it a live favourite.

Its the new collaborations though which are the real highlights. Elbow's Guy Garvey sounds like a demented loner on Flat of the Blade. 'Things I've seen will chase me to the grave. I'm not good in a crowd. I've got skills I can't speak of' he mourns. The production on this track (and indeed the album as a whole) is excellent with abstract electronic beats giving way to Garvy's insane ramblings. Bettter still, and for me the stand out track on the album is Paradise Circus sung by Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star. The obvious reference point is Mezzanin'e Teardrop but Sandovel brings enough to the track to make it her own and the strings at its outro are truly moving. Damon Albarn's contribution is more playful and wouldn't be out of place on the most recent Blur Album Think Tank. 'Do you love me' he sings - somewhat ironic given his somewhat divisive reputation.

Some of Massive Attack's best work is on Heligoland - individual tracks will stand up to repeated listenings on Ipod shuffle - and the beats, as always, have far more depth and texture than typical 'downbeat' acts. Having said that, the album as a whole feels somewhat disjointed. The guest turns make it feel more like an Unkle album than a Massive attack one and I can't help but feel that the sequencing of the tracks could be better. Heligoland doesn't see Massive reinventing their sound and is unlikely to win them new fans but with the return of Daddy G's soulful input (and wonderful cover art) they will keep their existing fans happy and in many ways that represents a step forward in itself.