I’ve never bought a record on the strength of a press review, apart from a Kashif album that was so comprehensively slated by the NME that I thought “I have to buy this!”. So I bought the Kashif album, and it was totally great.
Any time music comes to me it’s through the ether. All of my biggest finds have been purely accidental. Switching on Radio Scotland one night and hearing Tinseltown In The Rain, and being transfixed. Managed to tape some of it but the DJ didn’t say what had just been played. It was only months later, in a record store, that I heard the record being played and was able to ask who the artist was.
All of the music I loved as a kid, I still love now. No idea where this loyalty comes from – but I can’t think of one single piece of music I have ever fallen out of love with after falling in love with it.
An example of this is Robert Wyatt’s “At Last I Am Free”. John Peel played it, I would have been 14 years old. I didn’t know it was a cover version – and an unlikely one at that. (Although I could now imagine Wyatt doing justice to a Kashif composition. Lol.) It was the bleakness of the rendition that got me. You could smell cold, mossy air off it, and yet, and yet, it sounded like weary catharsis. It sounded like things my 14 year old’s vocabulary had no words to describe.
The register Wyatt sings that song in, and the vocal timbre. Just wow. So I bought the vinyl LP out of the Virgin Megastore on Princes Street a few Saturdays later. I loved its uncompromising socialist stance, despite being then – as I remain now – apolitical. The record was a thing of beauty – its sleeve depicting a Rolls Royce bonnet with the mascot a production line worker. Such a great piece of art – the title Nothing Can Stop Us plus the Rolls Royce equals a great socialist pun. It also had a lyric sheet, which in those days was a sign of generosity, and something else to hold the attention.
But beyond the Chic song, it’s not an album I ever really got into – its experimentalism, artwork and sentiment are all great – it just didn’t press all of my buttons. The Wyatt album that did that is Rock Bottom. My copy of it has fascinating liner notes about the record’s production, and a picture of Alfreda Benge and Robert Wyatt that I think is great. Look at the expression on Benge’s face. That is the look of love, and no mistake.
On Sea Song, Wyatt’s voice is used as an instrument, counterpointing the synth lines – shoals of vowels shimmer past, and it draws you right in. Glaswegian humourist Ivor Cutler makes an appearance on the closing track. And in between you get everything from trumpets that have (to my mind) a tang of Spanish Civil War anarcho-syndicalism (or maybe that’s just me?) to otherworldly tropical fish jazz, and the wonderful wordplay in the song titles, like Alifib and Alife. Both are diminutives of Alfreda, of course. But Alifib, when you break it down, ‘fib’ is vernacular for a lie. And Alife is both ‘alive’ and ‘ a life’. The inference that I draw from this is that the two songs are about a kind of Doppler effect that love places on life. So, the ‘before’ is a fib, but then he finds love and it becomes ‘Alife’ – a qualitative difference. Or I may just be talking shit. Either way, I have my Kashif album, My Robert Wyatt albums – and some great Nile Rodgers productions in my collection too.