Notes From The Underground: Radical Music Of The 20th Century – él Records

Where to begin. Like forever calling this collection of exemplarily works celebrates all that was worthwhile of the twentieth century, denoting times, evoking memory, lives lived and lost. Spanning four discs of undeniable pleasure living in the moment is cast aside as history is rewound spelling out the story of humanities rites of passage tuning into a panoramic view of Art, sound and all that that was radically exciting in its wake. If the needle got stuck on Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) from 1894 who would complain. Breathing life. Igor Stravinsky’s challenging intensity follows suite featuring a collections of bombastic light and shade making you feel lost in a Hitchcock or expressionistic drama of dark celluloid. Contrasts are always informative and no less so than the sonic collages from Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Schaeffer who proceed to delve into unimaginable depths of the soul pulling out incendiary fragments. Then complimented by John Coltrane’s superlative live version of My Favourite Things performed in 1961.

Listening to Edgard Varèse’s incredible 1954 World Premiere of Déserts must have seemed like aliens landing less than a mere ten years after the Second World War. However, music of a different passion is also featured providing that all important light relief in the shape of Vicente Alvarez and his Tropical Orchestra – Tango Argentino. A number of these lighter, seemingly more conventional tracks intersperse the playlist working well as distractions that make the impact of the revolutionary all the more potent. Compositions and interpretations by Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman are also present, while mere words can’t really do justice to hearing Allen Ginsburg recite Howl in all its brutal, shining glory. The wonderful Daphne Oram is here too.

The third disc is primarily given over to the poems by Edith Sitwell accompanied by the music of William Walton, a step too far perhaps but then again. Or the delicate sound of melting hearts care of Bill Evans, My Foolish Heart featuring the eloquent bass playing of Scott LaFaro sounding just like the cinema of life never changes. By the fourth CD energetic heartstrings are played Gustav Mahler’s incredibility poignant Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor IV. Adagietto, getting lost in a please don’t ever end moment this must be one of the finest ever compositions. Then, John Cage happens. From 1951. And you think radical music just happened. Out of nowhere. On the music travels.

There are a whole host of other artists not mentioned so far but isn’t that the pleasure of discovery. If you find music a serious exploit then do try this for yourself. You might get a little shocked or even surprised in the process but not dulled by disappointment. Music of genius can be said to be timeless and with release the point is correct.

Release: January 21


Lux And Ivy Dig Crime Jazz – Film Noir Grooves & Dangerous Liaisons – Cherry Red Records

Who doesn’t love the drama of crime? Then again you doesn’t love Jazz. This late 50’s sizzling combo is inescapably awe-inspiring featuring a feast of Film Noir scores across the roulette of excellence taking you into worlds unknown. This is real close your eyes and you are there stuff. Maybe, just maybe, they don’t make music quite as evocative as this anymore. I’m listening to Warren Barker’s cool Harlem Nocturne and the details are exquisite but then you also have The Man With The Golden Arm amid the sassy swing of Henry Mancini’s Son Of Raunchy conjuring up all sorts of naughtiness. Or Miles Davis hauntingly beautiful Générique or even Andre Previn’s snappy Like Blue. This is very much about late night encounters spread across the unrestricted, uncontained unreality of wonderful Jazz. The artists you will recognise, as much as the wonderful array of films whose scenes are adorned throughout. I really can’t recommend this highly enough for all sorts of reasons but after all time is timeless.

Release: November 26


Musik Music Musique 2.0: The Rise Of Synth Pop – Cherry Red Records

Sometimes it feels like we have never left the 80’s, or even escaped the 90’s for that matter. Being tied to history because it might seem safer or more familiar is a better place to live out life instead of processing the fraught airwaves of current reality. Maybe the decade did actually in fact begin and almost end via (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang, although give me Gina X Performance – No GDM anytime, or Yello – Bostich all the time.

Following on from the first instalment, Musik Music Musique 2.0 now delves into the full flavour of 1981 charting the radical aftermath of Punk with this selection of readymade electronic pop, which quite rightly also touches its various edges, while capturing the essence of what defined the year. So ok, some of this sounds wonderfully/ dreadfully dated as seminal moments and memories get relived across the movement of Fashion and Chris And Cosey’s sizzling – This Is Me as if electricity had just been discovered pointing fast-forward into the future. It’s likewise recommended that besides the inclusion of Spandau and Duran Duran if you’re looking for something more meaningful you also try the tense delights contained within the third CD such as from Naked Lunch, AK-47 and Zeus Cowboy’s low-slung – On The Beach. However, if you’re after the breeze of lighter melodies there are plenty of those available too from all the big hitters. Finally the sleeve notes written by the most knowledgeable Mat Smith from Electronic Sound Magazine detail the relish, covered in depth to enhance the aural experience.

Release: October 15


Pure Exotica: As Dug by Lux & Ivy – Cherry Red Records

Part of the reason this is all so exciting is that I have very little idea of what it actually is. Described neatly as, ‘exotica, space age bachelor pad music and the weird side of easy listening’, is quite frankly about as tempting as it can get. Transporting you to somewhere else entirely like a magical dance these sounds feel that they might have a secret to revel. Lost in the heat of a celluloid dream located sometime in the 50’s or 60’s this whirlwind of shimmering exuberance is nothing short of a joy to behold. In many ways this is simply a beautiful compilation of heart-warming music as it is occasionally, very slightly odd. Some of artists involved will may be familiar with such as Martin Denny and Henry Mancini but in ways this fusion of playful Latin, Jazz and cinema is all about experiencing the journey, crisscrossing the wonder of sight and sound, rhythm and sassy slink. Any track on here could be a personal favourite but I’m easily drawn towards Ahmed Abdul Malik’s African Bossa Nova, plus Martin Denny’s 1958 masterpiece Primitiva. Selected by The Cramps’ Lux & Ivy so you can of course expect the unexpected all wrapped up in a sea of mildly camp, technicolour hysteria. Yes Please.

Release: September 17


A Revolution In Sound: Pop Culture And The Classical Avant-Garde – Él Records

Startling and stunning in equal measure it is exciting, certainly necessary to get shaken up once in while out of the security of familiarity. As the title of this latest collection of terse, far-out and exotically challenging sounds collide creating a template for you to do so, this is a fast-forward journey into the provocative and evocative. The junction and spirit of inspiration interlinking between Pop Culture And The Classical Avant-Garde is well documented, as indeed are the accompanying sleeve notes here, and this selection of composers, artists and sound manipulators is spread across four cd’s of undoubtable thrills. From Stockhausen to Coltrane extending the hotwire of radical improvisation to the twenty munities of Ravi Shankar’s mystically charged Raga Bilaskhani Todi, from the humanity of Debussy to Bill Evans emotive Jazz this literally plays out like a roller-coaster of emotional highs and lows. Private Dreams and Public Nightmares, created before the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was established in 1958, highlighting (again) the importance of Daphne Oram alongside Desmond Briscoe and Norman Bain with a cut-up of sight and sound is to be found here. The full 27 minutes of Pierre Henry’s Orpheus, the first major work of symphonic concrète music, is included too. All of which merely scratches the surface of a less conventional appreciation of what collections of noise are capable of, just as the beauty of Classical notation likewise ignites the soul. Things and perspective might not quite feel the same after you listen to this…

Release: May 21


Shake The Foundations: Militant Funk & The Post-Punk Dancefloor 1978-1984, 3CD Box Set – Cherry Red Records

Listening to the opening numbers from A Certain Ratio and 23 Skidoo confuse the very idea of post-punk recasting it more as post-funk. It was always an odd expression to begin with anyway, slightly ill-fitting yet also neatly apt to describe the flame of inspiration which fuelled Punk’s ethos while defiantly creating something altogether new in its wake. Almost as quickly as Punk became an expression it became a clique some could not escape from and in many ways this excitable, radical fusion of all things past, present and future was/ is all the more satisfying in retrospect. Bill Brewster’s thrill-seeking journey throughout the timeframe sees a perfect collision of guitars, synthesizers and political theory all rolled into one. So much so it’s hard to imagine now that contemporary music was once quite so varied, so experimental, so anti. As today’s industry feels like an industry in itself, a never ending spin on its own refection. There is something uniquely refreshing going on here.

John Cooper Clarke’s Post War Glamour girls is an all-time favourite for all sorts of reasons, as is Vicious Pink’s Cccan’t You See (thank you John Peel). Fashion, Modern Romance, Visage, The Surface Mutants, The Pop Group, Glaxo Babies, Fun Boy Three plus a whole host of the wired and wonderful, supremely funky, alongside the seditious collectively inspire and define what happened somewhere in-between 1978 to 1984. Those repercussions still echo. The final track from Family Fodder – Disco Purge says it all in under 2.30 minutes (listen below) also listen to Visage – Frequency 7 feed into Techno in 1981! A brilliant, inspiring listen that will tempt you into doing something else….

Release: March 26


1978 The Year The UK Turned Day-Glo – Cherry Red Records

1978 felt like the year dot for me. Imagine hearing The Stranglers intoxicating 5 Minutes, The Outcasts crystalline You’re A Disease, Magazine’s Touch And Go or even The Only Ones – Another Girl, Another Planet for the first time. And that’s only from cd one. Previously I got excited by Sweet, Sparks then Alex Harvey and an assortment of bubble-gum probably best forgotten. But the cross-section which this year signified saw the excitement of music evolve in differing directions from Sham 69’s Borstal Breakout to the slow introduction of synthesizers, creating the feeling that something else was about to happen. It was a good thing the Sex Pistols exited that year, they said all they had to by that stage.

The next cd opens with Poly Styrene’s X-Ray Spex epic The Day The World Day-Glo which christens this compilation, and that’s one of things I remember most that year was the searing colour of everything from the clothes to the music and words. And yes that was even in Belfast too. Kung Fu International resolutely spat out by John Cooper Clarke is here, the crazy beauty of Ultravox’s Slow Motion as well. UK Subs – Live In A Car plays like a fiery rock n roll flipside to it all, there to remind you about the energetic nihilism still fizzing away.

Disc three begins with what the defining musical moment from that year Public Image Limited’s – Public Image which said so much in a precise three minutes it left you stunned, while proceeding to transform the landscape into what happened next. Then comes Stiff Little Fingers, Alternative Ulster and Scritti Politti 28/8/78 both stretching out politically charged guitars into the ether. One of the most beautiful songs ever written, You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory by Johnny Thunders follows. The Fall contrasts almost everything else, while The Jam’s In The Crowd feels unexpectedly twee in comparison now. 10.15 Saturday Night by The Cure is another forward pointer which meant everything to me that year, though it was the following year I got to see them live at the Ulster hall supporting Siouxsie and the Banshees. Not all of the music may be wonderful but that is also down to personal taste, however what still shines remains excellent. This being Cherry Red you also get fantastic sleeve notes highlighting all that vigorous fun plus the detail of insight this time from the hand of David Wells.

Release: August 28





Shellshock Rock: Alternative Blasts From Northern Ireland 1977-1984

The Punks I hung about with from 1978 cared about three things: music, clothes and attitude. Despite popular belief we even had a great time doing so, just like anywhere else. What we didn’t like too much was being told what to do, how to think. Which is why Punk appealed to those of us in the first place. We didn’t like the Police, we didn’t want the IRA who tried to blow the place to pieces killing everyone in the process, and we couldn’t abide the confirmatory of Paisley’s DUP or for that matter the mindless sectarian slaughter imposed by either side’s self-appointed masters. You found yourself somewhere in-between. Outside of what was considered normal. But what you did have was music. Punk pulled people and resources together, more often than not.

Following compilations of the sounds emanating out of Manchester, Scotland, Sheffield and Liverpool, Northern Ireland‘s output from 1978 to 1982 has now been catalogued across 3 CD’s of 74 tacks. Plus of course the film, lending the title, Shellshock Rock is included on DVD.

Shellshock Rock

Shellshock Rock is a 46 minute documentary on what was happening in and around Belfast Punk by 1979. John T Davis made what was the first of three features on the music scene capturing the spirit of the time, rough and ready, filled with life. What you see on the screen is the feel of grainy film, spliced and exposed reflecting memory right back at you. It has achieved legendary status since providing a snapshot of some of the bands, clubs along with everyday scenes from Belfast city centre. Today it feels like Derek Jarman channelled through the inspiration of Davis mentor D. A. Pennebaker, who filmed Dylan’s 1960’s UK tour and the Monterey Pop Festival while later collaborating on Depeche Mode ‘s American concert film, 101 among many others. The deliberate resolution projects like an abstraction pulling apart light from darkness, exposing ghosts of the past. Yet there is something almost poetic about the way it all seems suspended in time, so close to the heart. When it was first released the film even found its way to various screenings in NYC at clubs Tier 3, Hurrahs, The Mud Club, The Peppermint Lounge, Club 57, and CBGBs. There is also a great interview with the filmmaker containing this heavy-duty prose: Shellshock Rock is not about Punk. It is Punk.

The film inevitably arrives at the Great Victoria Street, home of Good Vibrations Records, greeted by the enthusiasm of Terri Hooley celebrating the labels first release from Rudi, Big Time: You drive your daddy’s car, But you drove it far too far. You’ve got so many things, But they’ll see you in the end…

Incidentally you can also see Gavin Martin/ Dave ‘Angry’ McCullough’s infamous, essentail fanzine Alternative Ulster (many others fuelled things too) pinned to the wall, intercut with the band live at one of the early venues where Punks played the Glenmachan Stables. The quality of the documentary lies in the fact that various venues like The Pound and Chester’s in Portrush expands the story beyond the capital as does the music highlighting the diverse record labels on offer. Also featured are Rhesus Negative who disappointingly only have this short recording of Love In Vein from 1978 to document an intriguing potential, plus The Outcasts playing You’re A Disease from their excellent debut release at Wizard Studios from that same year.

1979 might feel a little after the fact compared with other cities in the UK and how music was evolving, shooting off into different directions with the incorporation of electroinic sounds. It’s even been said that Belfast and its surrounding counties where the last bastion of Punk itself.

The Music Compilation.

The music begins via the strum of Mickey Bradley’s bass guitar on The Undertones frankly perfect True Confessions from their EP for Good Vibrations, the one with Teenage Kicks. Then unexpectedly takes a turn towards power-pop/ Springsteen-esque styled American rock n roll, guitar solos and all. However, The Idiots arrive to rescue the Punk flag with Parents. But to be fair a sizable portion of this isn’t really a Punk compilation expanding its scope to catalogue the styles found on various other labels, chiefly via George Doherty’s Rip Off Records which started in 1978 and released a large part of the music around. He also, not so incidentally, produced Rudi’s classic Big Time for Good Vibes as well as The Outcasts first EP from ’78 the equally brilliant Frustration on IT Records. They were also the first to release N. Irish compilation album, Belfast Rock likewise in 1978. Not so into the more R&B based stuff, but none the less captures moments in time. Although, it has been said that an early visit by Eddie and the Hot Rods was as much a catalyst to ignite minds.

By the time you hit the second CD opening with Stiff Little Fingers, Suspect Device which still remains one of the most powerful pieces of political realisation (alongside Alternative Ulster) to date. Have to say that Ruefrex’s lyrical One By One is just as powerful in other ways. The Outcasts, Magnum Force spikey skank is magnificent, while Rod Vey’s curious, electronically charged Metal Love stands out too. As does the twisted effects of Stage B’s mesmerising, Light On The Hillside.

The third disc has Rudi, the always excellent Defects, Shock Treatment along with a refreshingly different Dogmatic Element to end.

Dig With It (buy it) editor Stuart Bailie’s introduces it all with an in-depth analysis of lived-in events. While Spit Records Sean O’Neill provides further lowdown on the bands, alongside personal testimony from various members themselves. By the way the definitive book on NI Punk is his co-authored It Makes You Want To Spit.

Not having heard a lot of this music for a long time it’s great to hear just how great most of the Punk output remains, feeling vibrant, even timeless.

Release: July 31, 2020

Musik Music Musique – 1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop – Cherry Red Records

Memories maketh the music…

I was going to begin by saying I never cared for the term Synth Pop, though I had forgotten just how brilliant Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Messages was/ is, containing those perfect opening bars which almost come to define the pleasure of these three discs. Also because the word Pop suggests certain words, phrases and melodies which can become less interesting, less relevant over time. However, nothing could be further from the intent of a lot of the music created here as you will soon hear. But before pressing play the accompanying sleeve notes by Electronic Sound magazine’s Mat Smith are temptingly thought-provoking, while his histories of the individual tracks are equally fascinating.

The proceeding intersection plays out between what evolved out of late seventies Punk in the UK and its prior USA counter-part, an awareness of the importance of Kraftwerk et el, synthesized Disco, alongside the more industrial, experimental ideas fizzing away across the globe, plus increased access to the employment of innovative keyboard sounds to speak the new language. Some artists took the influence of electronic music on board extending/ broadening their career, others became innovators, influencers in turn. Casting aside the overly familiar three chord structure a new horizon opened up for music with tracks such as these creating more international impact than was perhaps first perceived. The ideas and techniques heralded the dance music that was to come in the succeeding years, all of those loosely defined possibilities were entirely endless. Although, sometimes some of the numbers simply feel like rock n roll played by electronics. The compilation also demonstrates that electronic music could become something more than it was touching upon popular song, while also being radical if that was the path you wished to explore.

It being the 1980’s occasionally melodies cruise in certain directions but then you have the likes of Fad Gadget’s resolute Coitus Interruptus to correct the digression. In fact it quickly proves remarkable the breadth of wonderful, inspiring music there is on offer across each cd. And I’m not just referring to Gina X, John Foxx (of course), D.A.F, Visage, even a certain Phil Lynott’s exploration of electronic music, or The Residents delightfully dangerous Diskomo. As for every name that’s familiar there are those, forgotten, who this compilation pays tribute to as well.

In a sense this is music purely defined by its time that you probably won’t ever hear again, re-created elsewhere. I guess because the looser structure of recording analogue, alongside the injection of Punk attitude + the non-conformity of D.I.Y culture doesn’t seem quite as high on the agenda as it once did, creating a definitive, necessary ambience in the process.

Release: July 31


FURTHER PERSPECTIVES & DISTORTIONS An Encyclopaedia Of British Experimental and Avant-Garde Music 1976-1984 – Close To The Noise Floor/ Cherry Red Records

Close To The Noise Floor embark on this invaluable project to highlight and expose the wealth of British Experimental and Avant-Garde Music between 1976-1984. Years in which you had the existence of Fleetwood Mac on one side of the Atlantic, while Duran Duran populated the other. Perhaps what is so cutting about this selection of pieces is how on-edge some of it is – although, perhaps more realistically, it all is. Opening with Trail Of Traps by Alterations is quite frankly on unnerving experience which jolts you when least expected (especially LOUD). The journey through the unexpected is then blissfully realised via the weird and wonderful as experimental sounds and ideas are rigorously developed, ever mutating into another world of riotous potential. What also exists here is an invigorating, breathless combination of hints and persuasions of every colour and rhythm from Classical input, through to dangerous explosions of sound, to free Jazz and more. So much so that its almost hard to take in all in one go. I’m not actually sure, at this stage, whether such a thing as standout tracks do exist as they all play a part in forming a document of the unconventional. But, as life progresses in ever more uncertain ways, releases such as this, play an ever more important role in cataloguing the unorthodox as it now feels entirely normal.