Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Interview: Tim Lawrence, author of Love Saves the Day

Given the widespread acknowlegement of the importance of the 1970's disco scene now its hard to beleive that a few years ago the influence of this genre was not really acknowledged. UK writers such as Bill Brewster have had a key role in ensuring that the legacy of Larry Levan, Francis Grasso and of course David Mancuso have been recognised for the massive impact they've had on the world of modern music. One of the most important writers is undoubtedly Tim Lawrence. His Love Saves the day is the definitive account of 1970's New York, featuring scores of interviews with anyone but anyone who mattered. I, like many others, have used this text not only to understand disco's cultural context but also to track down the key songs of the era. Tim has gone on to write a fantastic biography of Arthur Russell and has found time to co found the Lucky Cloud Sound System which even now hosts parties with David Mancuso in London three or four times a year. It is a huge pleasure therefore to have been able to track Tim down and get some insight into his work...

How did you first get into disco yourself?

I got into dance music during the "house music all night long" era, so came to disco vicariously through that. But I must admit that I didn't really get disco for quite a long time; the synthetic quality of house music was so compelling it made the live instrumentation of disco sound a bit weak. I started to hear more disco when I lived in New York between 1994-98, and it was during that period that I set out to write a history of house music. In the end I didn't get very far with that project; Stefan Prescott arranged for me to interview David Mancuso, and David quite correctly persuaded me to begin my history not in 1985, but in 1970. Initially I was unsure about the idea of having to write about a period I wasn't that into musically, but David, Steve D'Acquisto, Nicky Siano and many others introduced me to this extraordinary range of instrumental music that was recorded in the 1970s, and in the end I became so absorbed with the 1970s I had to wrap the book up in 1979. So that was my journey into disco, although I should probably note that I've always approached it as just one of a whole range of sounds that I'm into. I'm not really into hearing disco all night long, just as I'm no longer into the idea of hearing house music all night long, either. I like a sonic spectrum, and that's what David, Steve, Nicky and the rest set of the 1970s spinners were all about. When these guys were playing disco, it was new music, not nostalgic music, and it was always just one element.

Which club had the single biggest impact on your life?

I'd say the Loft, but the Loft is very specifically set up as a house party and not a club. David revealed the sonic and social possibilities of the dance floor, and that had a huge impact on my approach to partying, on the way I wrote Love Saves the Day, and on the way that I've become involved in helping put on parties with David in London. In terms of clubs, I'd have to say the most influential was Feel Real at the Gardening Club, which I went to every Friday for about three years before I moved to New York in 1994. The Rhythm Doctor, Evil Olive, Femi B and Rob Acteson were the DJs there, and I ended up buying records with Chris, the Rhythm Doctor, every week. I heard Louie Vega play for the first time at the Gardening Club, and that pretty much led me to decide to go and live in New York. Once I was there , I danced at Louie's Wednesday night parties at the Sound Factory Bar on a regular basis. Then I started going to the Loft in 1997...

Everyone has their own favourite disco DJ – Mancuso, Levan, Siano – who is your personal favourite?

I love David's range, his approach to programming, and his emphasis on sound and the centrality of the dance floor, but I probably shouldn't include him in this list because he's really not a DJ, and has never described himself as such; he's more of a musical host. I never got to hear Larry Levan play live, but I've managed to accumulate quite a few tapes, and they're special. As with David, I appreciate the way Larry prioritises programming over mixing. I used to be quite obsessed with mixing, and was very into the way Louie Vega would do these amazingly long and creative overlays. Beyond those guys, I really appreciate Danny Krivit's party sensibility; the celebratory atmosphere at 718 has a lot to do with his selections. For the longest time I've also been very taken with Fran├žois Kevorkian's range and dynamism and philosophy. I should also add that Colleen Murphy played a tremendous set when she had to fill in for David Mancuso at the last minute at one of our Journey Through the Light parties in London. I'd always known that Colleen had a great record collection, but that was the night that she was able to play with fully expressivity. The experience confirmed something I think I've know for a while; that the crowd, the sound system and the room set-up are just as important if not more important than the actual DJ. It was because of the setting that Colleen was able to play such a great range of records. So while I'm happy to name DJs that I'm into, I think the question risks placing too much emphasis on the individual. Parties are social-technological settings, and DJs are people who engage in a musical conversation with dancers. The most effective DJs are the ones who appreciate this.

What single song to you best encapsulates the spirit of disco?

I don't really think of myself as being a "disco guy". I deliberately didn't use the word "disco'" in the title of Love Saves the Day because the book begins in 1970s, and disco didn't really get going as a recognisable genre until 1974, so there were four long and amazing years to cover before I even got to that point. It's also worth bearing in mind that the word "disco" initially referred to the music that would be played in a "discotheque" (or a private party), and therefore referred to the full range of music that early spinners were drawing on. A lot of great conventional disco music followed. I'm not sure I could pick out one song that encapsulates the spirit of disco, but I love the Walter Gibbons mix of Hit and Run, Larry Levan's mix of I Got My Mind Made Up, T-Connection's Do What You Wanna Do -- there are so many...

Why, of all the disco legends, did you choose to write a biography of Arthur Russell?

Because I wanted to find out more about the person who was the key influence behind Go Bang, which is one of my favourite dance records. (I'd have listed it above, but it's not really a conventional disco record.) I was also done with Love Saves the Day and wanted to find a way to continue to explore New York music culture in the 1970s and 1980s without becoming a train--or a historian who had to write a book about the 1980s and then the 1990s and then the 2000s just because my first one covered the 1970s. I knew I wanted to get on to write about the 1980s at some point, but I was also interested in the way that the rise of disco was paralleled by equally dramatic developments in hip hop, new wave and new music (or post-minimalist compositional music). All of these breakthroughs happened in New York during the 1970s and early 1980s, so I wanted to be able to write a book that reexamined disco not as an isolated phenomenon, but as a musical movement that was matched by other musical movements. I also wanted to get beyond the limitations of genre and see how these musical movements didn't just evolve separately, but also came to interact with each other. Go Bang was an example of that because it incoroporates disco, rock, dub and orchestral music. It soon became clear that Arthur Russell would be an amazing person to write about in this regard, because his itinerant sensibility led him to record not only disco but compositional music, new wave, pop, and folk, often with more than half-an-ear tuned towards developments in hip hop, dub and funk. Because Arthur operated in all of these scenes more or less simultaneously, it meant that a biography about him could also double up as a biography about New York during one of its most sonically and socially dynamic periods.

What’s your favourite Arthur tune?

It has to be "Go Bang", but there are so many others.

Disco has been ‘reclaimed’ as a credible genre in recent years – do you think your work and that of others like Bill Brewster has contributed to that?

Bill and Frank's "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life" is definitely the most popular DJ book out there, and they brought some important and belated attention to the "disco" DJs by including two chapters on disco. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on the impact of Love Saves the Day.

Do you still go out dancing yourself? What is your reflection on today’s scene?

I go to every party we put on with David Mancuso at the Light, of course. They happen four times a year and are so strong it can sometimes be quite difficult to go into a different environment. But when I went on a two-week research trip to New York at the beginning of 2009 I went out every other night and had an amazing time -- the Loft, Libation at the Sullivan Room, Deep Space at Cielo -- these were all great parties. I seem to have slowed down in terms of going out in London, so maybe it's a bit of a London thing. The fact I've got two young daughters doesn't make it easier to go out (and I was free from the responsibility of getting them to school when I went back to New York). Then again, I'm not that into a lot of the party settings in London, where there's too much emphasis on alcohol, multi-DJ platforms, and ear-ache sound. But I'm always asking people to advise me on good places to try out and have a couple of visits lined up.

What’s next for Tim Lawrence?

I'm writing a book on New York club culture 1980-84. In a way it's the continuation of Love Saves the Day, but through the prism of Arthur Russell. To put it another way, I'm continuing the narrative of the first book, but lots of different elements come into the New York dance/club scene in the early 1980s, so I'm having to write about rock, hip hop and dub as well as pursue the legacy of the venues I charted in Love Saves the Day. It's proving to be quite captivating.

For more on Tim's work go to

For more info on David Mancuso's loft parties go to

Both Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Culture 1970-1979 and Hold on to Your Dreams:Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene 1973-1992 are available online at Amazon and elsewhere. If you have any interest in New York's music scene, buy these books - you won't regret it.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Sweet sixteen - what the kids are listening to...

As one gets older it’s a sad inevitability that you lose touch with the cutting edge sounds of the day. No matter how much you listen to music it’s inevitable that the loud and brash sounds that appealed when you were sixteen are a little too abrasive and so music with smoothed edges appeals that little bit more. That’s not to say that you can’t stomach experimentalism but simply some genres – (hardcore, thrash metal and trance to name but three) are best enjoyed young.

Having said all of that, I am determined for the purposes of research (and curiosity) to unearth the music that appeals to the current sixteen year old – not Lady Gaga or Tinchy Strider but the underground sounds that spearhead the tribes of the typical teenager. I’ve been out and spoken to the nation’s youth from Norwood to Norfolk to find out what is ticking their boxes right are ten acts that are doing it for them...why not listen to at least one that takes your fancy and discover something new? (My particular favourite is Mount Eden).


This Duo’s somewhat unsubtle Bend Over video has had over 2.5 million hits on Youtube – perhaps unsurprisingly given the macho posturing and female booty shaking. Having said that, there is no doubt that Renegade X has a great dancehall voice and there is a good chance these guys will continue the Jamaican tradition of dancehall legends.

You might like this if you like: Barrington Levi, Beenie Man

Bullet For My Valentine

South Wales Metallers just about to release their third album and play a key slot at this years Download (Donnington in our day) festival. Bullet combine orchestral arrangements and strong melodies with heads down thrash. To me they sound a bit retro but they’re absolutely massive with the youth...

You might like this if you like: Metallica, Iron Maiden

Sub Focus

Nick Douwma melds sounds of many of the best dance scenes of recent years into a coherent bass led whole. Combining drum n bass, house and techno to provide a blissed out festival dance vibe – the sort of music that you can imagine taking the roof off the dance tent at Glastonbury. He’s actually been recording for a few years but only released his debut album in 2009. Like a number of current dance acts he is clearly influenced by (and has remixed) the Prodigy and Dizzee Rascal.

You might like this if you like: Chemical Brothers


You don’t know where my people coming from cos you don’t go there!
Yeh, we’re jus tryna make doe here!

He’s controversial – having done time for weapons offences but Peckham born Gigg’s rhymes exhibit a maturity which could see him in for the long haul. He’s already worked with Mike Skinner and Don’t Go There even made ripples in the States – one to watch.

You might like this if you like: Jay Z, Roots Manuva

Mount Eden

New Zealand producer whose Sierra Leone track (see link below)has been massive on the web (4 million hits on Youtube alone). Eden has remixed the Prodigy, Sigor Ros and Burial and is likely to be a BIG name on the Dubstep scene in the next few years.

You might like this if you like: Hyperdub style dubstep

Enter Shikari

St Alban’s finest. Shikari are a thrilling melding of metal and happy hardcore and are reknowned for their shambolic but energy filled live shows. They’ve had considerable success, selling out London Astoria before they were even signed (eventually releasing their debut on their own label) and subsequently with two UK top 20 albums.

You might like this if you like: Prodigy, Rage against the Machine

Professor Green

Foul mouthed UK rapper who recently scored a top 5 hit with Need you Tonight which sampled the INXS hit of the same name. He’s no overnight sensation however, having firstly been signed (and unceremoniously dropped from) Mike Skinner’s ‘Beats’ label then losing his father and getting stabbed with a glass outside London nightclub Cargo. Undeterred, he self-released single Upper Clapton Dance which, as anyone who has travelled on London’s 253 bus will tell you, is a pretty gritty but accurate account of the east end’s ‘murder mile’. Green isn’t one to pull his punches so it will be interesting to see how this pop phase of his career pans out.

You might like this if you like: Eminem, Plan B

Trash Talk

The self-proclaimed ‘most dangerous band in the world’ (a title once bestowed on Gun’s n’ Roses). In truth, these Californians thrashers are closer in sound to US hardcore acts from the 1980’s or the similarly hardcore Gallows. This is mosh pit music at its very best and completely alien to anyone over 20 (although I must admit I quite like it!) Steve Albini produced their debut and they’re now on their third album –the live shows are, perhaps unsurprisingly, legendary.

You might like this if you like: Napalm Death, Black Flag, Mudhoney


House influenced indie band currently causing a wave in the States following a series of shows at the South by Southwest music festival. The buzz has picked up on the fact that they manage to combine the euphoria of a rave with what is essentially guitar music. They boast Bill Murray as a fan and their debut album arrives in the summer.

You might like this if you like: Foals, LCD Soundsystem

Boy Better Know

A grime based boy band featuring Skepta (and once upon a time Wiley). Given the recent crossover success of Dizzee, Lethal Bizzle and Chipmunk there is no reason why they shouldn’t do very well indeed. To these ears they lack a bit of finesse but again there is raw potential here which could lead to better things later on. Their recent Too many men touched upon the important social issue of not having enough women in nightclubs...

You might like this if you like: Dizzee Rascal, Chipmunk

Monday, 19 April 2010

Hidden Gem: Voodoo Party - James Last (1972)

James Last reminds me of my nan. We would visit her bungalow in the Forest of Dean and there was a formica sideboard with an old style record player on it. The small collection of vinyl LPs underneath were wholly unexciting – Mantiovani, Your 100 best Tunes and James Last. Born in 1929, Last has released over 190 albums in his career and has sold over 100 million albums so its no surprise that there are a few kicking around in the homes of pensioners up and down the country.

It caused me much bemusement therefore to discover that for some of the most committed vinyl diggers out there Last is a cause celebre. There are actually a number of Last tracks that feature funky breakbeats and, given the tendency of 70’s easy listening acts to do cover versions of the hits of the day there are a surprising number of Last tracks worthy of a second listen. Having said that, one needs to proceed with immense caution. I have been as guilty as many of randomly buying Last albums for up to £2 only to discover some of the most cloying dross ever committed to wax.

Amongst the recordings which are worth hearing are Beat In Sweet which features a number of counterculture hits of the day including Mr Tambourine Man, I got you Babe and a very passable Like a Rolling Stone. Another is his frankly superb version of Hawkwind’s Silver Machine – a version of which is provided on Youtube below.

There is little doubting the holy grail though. Voodoo Party was released on Polydor in 1972 and is a surprisingly coherent album. It features various covers including Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues and Sly Stone’s Sing a Simple song which lend it a certain funky respectability from the outset but as a whole the album is remarkably consistent and even the Last compositions add to an excellent listen.

The LP is loosely based on the concept of voodoo rhythms and as such features many bongos, congas and rattles which add to the grooviness and the whole thing sounds like it was recorded in an early 70’s drug haze (although I suspect it wasn’t). The references to ‘negros’ and the ‘coloured population’ in the sleeve notes betray the years that have passed since it was released but the tunes contained within sound amazingly similar to some of the more esoteric recordings of recent years.

Opening track Se a Cabo (a track imortalised on Carlos Santana’s classic Abraxas) sets the tone – driving funk underpinned with heavy bongo and guitar. It ends with a far out synth which mixes immediately into Sing a Simple Song which, like many of the covers on display, is celebratory in feel. Following track Jin-go-lo-ba meanwhile is typical of a number of latin tracks on the album (Heyah Masse Ga, U-Humbah) which use bongo rhythms to create a tribal feel but it is fourth track Mamy Blue where things get really interesting. This track takes the tempo right down to leave you with a gospelly track which wouldn’t be entirely out of place on a psych folk album! It really is a beautiful track and you would be staggered to know it is by James Last if you didn’t already know. Mr Giant Man, the track at the end of side 1 would also fit nicely on an early 70’s folk album – it is comical in style with an absurd lyric ‘Hi Ho, I’m the king of giant land, Ho ho, come along, we’ll have some fun’ – the ensemble vocal remind me of the Polyphonic Spree or perhaps the Flaming Lips. By the end of the first side you could be forgiven for feeling a little bewildered with the variety of styles on display and yet somehow it all hangs together – the bongo being used to join the tracks into one ongoing narrative.

Everybody’s Everything is a pretty straight psychedelic soul number at the beginning of side two. Following are two covers - Sly’s Everyday People and Marvin’s Inner City Blues, both of which feature ensemble vocals and heavy bongo percussion but stay faithful to the originals. Babalu is possibly the weakest track overall – the trumpet takes it slightly too far into easy cheesy territory but its not terribly bad. Final track Voodoo Lady’s Love rounds things off nicely though. Its anthemic in feel and features a crazy synth build halfway through.
The whole album is really good fun – its perfect for a mellow house party/dinner party where the guests want something familiar to hang on to but is weird enough to keep the musos happy. The good news is that it can be picked up fairly cheaply – expect to pay between £5 and £8 – although I must admit I’ve never seen it lurking in the charity shops as various web forums have picked up on this one some time ago.

James Last is unlikely to be regarded as one of the great musical innovators (nor should he) but Voodoo Party is proof that we all have one great album inside us...

Friday, 16 April 2010

The 20 greatest psychedelic soul records

What’s your favourite musical genre? For me there are a number of contenders – I love the sheer excitement of a dirty drum n bass bassline. I find a good disco breakdown and build up again completely irresistible and just sometimes (especially on a Sunday morning) only a melancholy folk song will do...

Having said all of that, I’ve no hesitation when asked this question. Psychedelic soul (for that is my answer)evolved out of both the Motown artists quest for greater musical freedom and the psychedelia scene of the late 1960’s spearheaded by the Byrds and Dylan. The first protagonists were arguably Hendrix and then Sly and the Family Stone with the release of their landmark Dance to the Music in 1968. They somehow managed to capture the energy of guitar bands but maintain a soulful groove and this translated into massive sales as well as critical acclaim. Others soon followed – most notably Charles Stepney’s Rotary Connection from Chicago, Memphis’ Issac Hayes and the Norman Whitfield produced era Temptations and Undisputed Truth. The key years were probably 1969-75 by which time the psychedelic soul sound had evolved into the more fully realised and smoother produced disco movement. For some of us though it is those earlier records that capture something just a little more organic than disco but with the same infectious energy. Here’s 20 to seek out – a few classics, a few DJ favourites and just one or two oddities...if you don't agree with my selection (What, no Shuggie Otis?) then leave a comment below to let us know what you think...

20. Get ready – Rare Earth

A Temptations hit covered by a number of artists of the time, Get Ready carries the uplifting beat beloved of much psychedelic soul. Rare Earth were a white act signed to Motown and still play today. This track was a big favourite of Francis Grasso who many claim invented DJ mixing as it is recognised today. Another of their tracks Happy song was later remixed by Walter Gibbons and Francois Kevorkian.

19. Reflections - Diana Ross and the Supremes.

The trippy sounds of the time even reached Motown! This 1967 track started with the sound of a disorientated theremin and it is interspersed with various other sound effects. Even the lyrics were a departure from the likes of My Cherie Amour or Tracks of my Tears 'Through the mirror of my mind, time after time I see reflections of you and me' Diana sings. A great 60's pop single.

18. Dove – Cymande

Had to get some UK in there! Cymande really were/are a fantastic act perhaps most famous for their track BRA. This was one of their more gentle moments and like many of the tracks here has been sampled since (in this case by the Fugees). This has bongos and slide guitar to great emotional effect before a mellow climax of flute and soulful vocal – niiice.

17. A change is going to come – Baby Huey

There was a revival in Baby Huey a few years ago when his Living Legend album was reissued after various tracks were sampled by Ghostface Killah, Ice Cube and most notably Tribe Called Quest on Can I Kick it? This cover of the Sam Cooke classic takes the listener into the heart of the drugs experience with Huey talking about his own personal drug journey during the breakdown. Cooke’s original version of this song of course showed its continued relevance when selected by Barack Obama as his campaign theme song (although i'm not sure the president elect was actively endorsing the intensive use of hallucinogenics!).

16. Time has come today – Chambers brothers

Another one from the dawn of the psychedelic/soul fusion. Coming out in 1966 this 11 minute sprawling epic almost hit the American top 10 which says much about the experimental nature of the times. The Chambers Brothers were a folk band from Mississippi and split in 1972.

15. Red Moon – Fugi

There is some ambiguity as to whether Ellington ‘ Fugi’ Johnson and Black Merda (see number 9) were actually the same act but is actually more likely that they recorded together. Either way, this track is a wonderful fusion of soul and the emerging rock sounds of the day.

14. He’s a superstar – Roy Ayers

Ayer’s homage to Jesus is one of the very best tracks from his catalogue. The female backing vocals lift this onto a spiritual plain. I saw Roy Ayers play the jazz cafe a few years ago and at one point he jumped into the crowd right next to He’s a Superstar I didn’t happen of course but I felt better for letting him know that he should revisit it one day!

13. Tomcat – Muddy Waters

A number of established acts dabbled with psychedelia including Muddy Waters. This featured on the Electric Mud album which came about at the suggestion of Marshall Chess who wanted to re-invigorate the bluesman’s faltering career. The album dived in the states but was better regarded in the UK (Waters himself later disowned the recording). This particular track was re-discovered by DJ David Holmes on one of his many funk compilations.

12. Everyday people - Sly and the Family Stone

Sly's plea for racial tolerance was the band's first number one single in 1968 and did much to secure them a spot at the rock dominated Woodstock. The Stand album from which Everyday People was taken was a landmark release of the genre and included Don't call me nigger whitey as well as the title track. Different strokes for different folks indeed...

11. Superstar – Society of Seven

This one is an unlikely winner and has been championed by Mr Thing amongst others. Recorded by a Hawaiian hotel band (who still record til this day)this is a departure from their usual covers of standards of the day and is a fantastic example of the uptempo energy of soul music from this era. Expect to pay about £30 for the album its on (Simply Ourselves).

10. Chicago, Damn – Bobbi Humphry

One of the more mellow tracks on the list. This shows how the template of soul was taken into more extended forms via jazz. Humphry was the first female instrumentalist to record for Blue Note and as fine a flautist as you are likely to hear. The whole of her debut Blacks and Blues album that this comes from is superb.

9. For You – Black Merda

For you I could do anything...I do my best to make you feel like a queen – a simple message of unrequited love. This track has a real gospel feel and comes from the Detroit band’s album Long Burn the Fire on Janus, a subsidiary of Chess records. Black Merda considered themselves the first black rock band and enjoyed a short lived career but reformed in 2005 after diggers picked up on their records.

8. If there’s a hell below – Curtis Mayfield

With Chess and Cadet in town, Chicago was a major contributor to the psychedelic soul scene. As well as the acts listed here (Rotary Connection, Minnie Riperton) there were the Chi-lites and the Independents to name but two. Undoubtedly one of the most important artists though was Curtis Mayfield (formerly of the Impressions). There’s a hell below touches on another key theme of the era – racial harmony – these days its unlikely a song could reference Niggers, Jews, Whiteys and then go on to talk about how they’re all going to end up in hell anyway but then the 1970s were a very different time!

7. Undisputed truth – Smiling faces sometimes

An act put together by Norman Whitfield to enable him to master the sound that would become psychedelic soul. The band had a lengthy recording career from which there are many highlights but this was their only hit. Lyrically the song reflected the drug induced paranioa of the times (Smiling faces sometimes..they don't tell the truth). The song was also recorded by other psych soul acts the Temptations and Rare Earth.

6. Black Gold of the Sun – Rotary Connection

A Stepney production and another stone cold classic. Notably covered by NuYorcan Soul who introduced it to a whole new generation. Stepney’s orchestration, Sidney Barnes’ wonderful deep voice and Minnie Riperton’s unbelievable high octave range combine to devastating effect.

5. Morning Glory/Life and Death Pt 1/White Rose – Chairmen of the Board

Like the Parliament track below, was originally released on Lamont Dozier’s post Motown Inviticus label. A movement rather than a song it builds round a heavy bass groove and is largely instrumental. Heavy but melodic.

4. Come in out of the rain – Parliament

People don’t really think of George Clinton as psychedelic soul – rather the architect of P funk. This 1972 track however clearly toys with psych soul themes of civil rights and Vietnam and features a great vocal performance. A big favourite of Norman Jay amongst others.

3. Ike’s Mood – Issac Hayes

Heavily sampled – most notably by Massive Attack on Blue Lines, Issac Hayes arguably gave birth to orchesteral Soul with his landmark Hot Buttered Soul album. This came later on To Be Continued and is perhaps the ultimate realisation of the Hayes vision. The piano break is unbelievably tender and the strings combine to send real shivers up the spine – the sense of space in the whole track clearly had an influence on the Bristol artists some two decades later. Magnificent.

2. Law of the Land – The Temptations

Another stone cold classic and played by everyone from Nicky Siano at the Gallery(who used to mix it with James Brown’s Give it Up) to David Mancuso at the Loft. This has an unbelievably funky groove underpinned by a driving beat. Motown writer Norman Whitfield (himself the writer of I Heard it Through the Grapevine) brought the modern sound to the already established Temptations and produced what is arguably their best work – Cloud Nine, Papa Was a Rolling Stone and this personal favourite

1. Les Fleurs – Minnie Ripperton

Like heaven on ecstasy – the juxtaposition of Minnie’s voice with Charles Stepney’s orchestration makes for an irresistible end of nighter and is one of the all time classic club records. Recorded on Minnie’s debut LP Come Into My Garden the track is an ode to the physical joy of love. Stepney gives Minnie free reign in the chorus before letting rip on the instrumentation in the style of the rush from the Beatle’s Day in the Life – a perfect melding of human and instrument. The song I walked down the Aisle to...

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Interview with Spencer Hickman - UK coordinator of International Record Store Day

Why bother going to a record shop? The internet is faster, has a better selection of music and is, in many cases, cheaper. If we were wholly rational beings there would be no physical record shops.

Thankfully we are far from rational. The emotional engagement with where we purchase our music is one that is hard to explain and yet even the casual music buyer can gain immense pleasure from browsing through the CD racks in a supermarket or HMV rather than logging onto Amazon.

For those that cherish music buying, there are a number of other reasons for choosing the physical purchase; the thrill of the chase - scanning the shop for that illusive recording; the pleasure gained from not knowing what you are going to come home with until you do – often having been tipped off about something by the knowledgeable assistant and the joy of looking at real record or CD sleeves to get a sense of the artists creative vision.

Despite the obvious attractions, fewer of us are doing it. I’m as guilty as anyone of downloading (although I do still spend significant amounts of cash on records). Between 2004 and 2006 alone a quarter of the UK's record shops went out of business.

Why does this matter I hear you ask. There are a number of reasons. Firstly, the purchasing of music is increasingly in the hands of massive online conglomerates – Amazon, Play, Tesco et al – this will inevitably lead to a blanding out of music as these larger operations base their stocking decisions on who will sell most – these organisations care little for breaking innovative, good music. Second, the loss of the local record shop, like so many other independent shops is a blow to the high street itself and thirdly, and for me at least, most importantly, it is another blow against human interaction in an age where relationships are increasingly virtual.

Thankfully help is at hand. Saturday 17th April is International Record Store Day. This is a date where thousands of shops across the globe open up and interact with you the public. Live gigs are held in store, special vinyl only releases are made available for one day only (participating artists this year include Hot Chip, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Metallica) and people are invited to come and celebrate the sheer joy of sharing music with each other. Having visited Rough Trade Records in London last year I can assure you that the event is both well supported and unique. I caught up with Spencer Hickman, the manager of Rough Trade East and the UK co-ordinator of International Record Store Day to find out what all the fuss is about.

How did international record store day come about?

It came from a store in the US called Bull Moose music who thought it was crazy that we don't celebrate what we do

How has the organisation in the UK linked up with the US effort?

We piggy backed on the US event in 2007 very late in the day I only had six stores involved. This year we have over 140 !

What’s going to be going on on the day?

There will be lots of vinyl exclusives including an unreleased Rolling Stones 7 inch from the Exile on Main Street sessions, Crystal Castles and Foals are starting their new album campaigns with exclusive vinyl for the day All told we have 116 releases that are ONLY available in your local store plus lots of in-stores, cakes, face painting , gigs you name it , it's happening

Which particular vinyl exclusives are you particularly looking forward to?

The Flaming Lips (version of Dark Side of the Moon) is a hot one, the factory records sampler with cover artwork of the fac 1 poster as well as the Jesus and Mary Chain reissues - as my originals are worn out !

Has it been difficult to get artists on board?

Not this year. People are aware and up for it

Ultimately, what do you think the day will achieve?

Apart from bumper sales on the day !? Goodwill toward the high street. If stores do their job right on the day first time visitors will realise how vital their local shop is to the local music community and will continue to support it on a regular basis. I grew up around record shops and want other people to be able to do the same.

If you’ve not been to an independent record store for a while, why not seek out your local one on 17th April? You only need to spend a tenner and you might have something in your hand you will cherish for life. Here are 5 I would particularly recommend...

1. Ameoba records - San Francisco - huge warehouse chock a block with vinyl

2. Butter beats - Brisbane - a big personal favourite because of its well stocked Aussie funk section but loads of other good stuff too

3. A1 - New York - great for disco, funk and hip hop

4. Sounds of the Universe - London - great for new stuff and a second hand section downstairs. Can pick up the various Soul Jazz compilations for cheap

5. King Bee - Manchester - well priced and wide range of stock

Let me and others know your favourites below

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