How Funk went Swing

My vinyl to digital conversion effort has taken an involuntary pause as my NuWave Phone Converter and pre-amp has failed. Fortunately the makers, PS Audio, or only up in Boulder, so I drove it up there last Friday to drop it off for repair and will go collect it tomorrow.

While tidying up some of my more recent conversions, it caused made me reflect on a few trends, and at least, as far as I can remember them happening. I wrote over 10-years ago about the Day that disco died(for me). One question has been answered with the discovery, and posting on Youtube of scenes from the Clash, January 1st 1977 gig at The Roxy.

Unlike for most, when disco died at the 12th of July, 1979 burning of disco records at Comiskey Park.

Loads of material written and even some video about the punk period, circa ’76-’77, there are also many books and videos about the pure “Disco” period that ran from say late ’78 through ’84, especially in London. Little though has been written about the period from ’75 to ’78 that didn’t include punk.

Even Simon Reynolds Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past. . Published in 2011, Reynolds looks at Pop Cultures addiction to retro themes based on past success. Reynolds covers extensively Northern Soul in Chapter-7, he misses our generations key retro theme, and jumps straight to the Mod’ revival bands and culture of bands like the Jam and 2-Tone.

Come 1972, the kids of London and the South East were looking for something after and the reggae and ska of the late sixties, Motown, and similar. Over the next 2-years, on the backs of many great one-hit-wonders, like Tom the Peeper by Act One, and also from more perennial bands like the Three Degrees, new acts like George McRae, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, meant that soul/dance music had caught on big time. In September ’74 almost half the actual pop music chart was music of black origin, predominantly soul/dance music.

None of the early jazz oriented funk, driven by bands like the Fatback Band, made the charts. Tracks from their first album, the 1972 Street Dance, and later tracks from their 1974 album Keep On Steppin’, again lead by the title track, combined with the totally dance-able Wicki Wacky had been big club hits but had yet to make a chart breakthrough.

By the summer of ’75, when the Fatback Band had their first UK chart record Yum Yum, title track from their 1975 album. In the UK, by the time your youth cult became mainstream, which it always did, it was time to move on.

What had been bubbling under in 1975 was a pivot to swing. The summer of ’75 had seen the epitome of modern swing dance, The Hustle enter the chart, and by July that year had become #3 in the UK Pop Chart. Van McCoy’s emblematic track “The Hustle” had been a club hit for a while in early 1975, and it would be the start of a movement that would carry through to 1977’s Saturday Night Fever and beyond.

The Hustle was a dance for couples. To this point, soul/dance and Jazz funk dancing had been mainly an individual thing. As you can see if this video

We started looking for a different direction. As Reynolds suggests, we fell back on a retro theme. We briefly flirted with ’65 and dressing like the Beatles, clothes were available cheap in what were then Second Hand shops. What was more readily available, especially in London, was army surplus. There was a large surplus store on the north end of Tottenham Court Rd commercial district, prices were right the direction for the summer was set.

Our home club was Mash on Greek Street in SOHO. I don’t recall the club details, I do remember though it stayed open late as a “Restaurant” and it had a late night drinks license along with it. We paid something like £2.50, and that included chicken in a basket, which qualified as a restaurant. Upstairs was a restaurant, not sure what it’s name was MASH was in the basement.

We totally continued with funk and rare dance tracks, but a core function of the club was swing aka hustle dancing, increasingly in US Army Style uniforms. Monday evenings we’d head out to Canvey Island to the Goldmine, where Chris Hill took everything one step further and as well as playing Glenn Miller, he also held dance competitions, a full 2-years before any of us saw Saturday Night Fever. By February 1976, Manhattan Transfer had covered Tuxedo Junction, punk was starting to happen. It was time to move on.

David Johnson has some interesting observations about the Goldmine on his Shapers of the 80s website, including pictures.

Later that spring I tore my meniscus/cartilage playing soccer, which restricted severely my ability to dance through the summer. I went to France on the Canal Du Midi, and by the time I got back, the crew I’d been part of moved on. I’m convinced now that a few of us did go to the Roxy for the New Years Day ’77 Clash night.

IMG_20180820_213219Some of us kept in touch over the next few years, we did summer clubs, Great Yarmouth weekenders, the Bournemouth Soul Club, and others but it was never the same again. After I had a serious motorcycle accident in 1978, I did get back together with many of the gang in the summer of ’79, especially one college graduation party in South London, where I re-met Wendy, who’d become my wife a year later.

By then, clubs and disco were mainstream, the kids were younger, the 80’s and New Romantics were happening, it was no longer our time.

The Popularity Of ‘Westworld’ Points To Our Anxiety About AI

“If things play out with AI the way that they have done with Facebook, we’re in a lot of trouble.” Jonathan Nolan

Source: The Popularity Of ‘Westworld’ Points To Our Anxiety About AI, The Show’s Creators Say | Here & Now

Facebook walking the wrong side of the #GDPR line

Secret Agent: Top-10

I’ve spent the last year plus digitizing my vinyl collection for personal use. I’ve done all my general soul/jazz/jazz funk and disco artists from A-K. Which in total is only about 1/4 of the collection.

My passion though is collecting albums made by, former A&M  producer/A&R manager Creed Taylor.  CTI was initially a sub-label on A&M Records in the late 1960’s. There were a number of classic albums released including

10-Years earlier, a 28-year old Creed Taylor, was working with a small orchestra on a series of albums with Kenyon (Ken) Hopkins, one of jazz’s great composers and arrangers. Ken spent the 1950’s and 60’s in New York studios, where he became king of “the concept album.”

I spend a lot of time hunting both in person and online for affordable but good quality albums on the Creed Taylor CTI and Kudu labels. I have all but two of the Kudu label, I’ve had more than 50% of the label output since the late 1970’s. I’ve also had probably 40% of the CTI label. Buying the remainder has been a fun, rewarding experience, I’m working on ideas for the 50th anniversary of the labels in 2020.

A few weeks back I mentioned my CTI project to Rusty Hodge, founder of SOMA FM and he immediately came back with

I’d love to get some of Creed Taylor’s “crime” stuff for Secret Agent.

I’ve had all four of the Hopkins/Taylor concept albums for a few years, but aside from the Sound of New York, never played them. They were really only there for completeness. While you can get some of the albums from specialist UK outlets Sounds of the Universe and Boomkat as downloads, they just don’t have the same atmosphere as the original mono albums, and especially after some re-engineering.

I was delighted to see four of the tracks in the SOMA FM Secret Agent by spins chart this week.

The four albums I’ve worked on for SOMA FM are as follows, interestingly these albums are not mentioned in either the Kenyon Hopkins or Creed Taylor wikipedia entries. I’ll have to see what else I can find out about that period. It is remarkable to me that Creed Taylor, possibly one of the key people behind the early Jazz > Funk evolution in the early 70’s was working on these soundtrack style albums 20-years earlier.

The Creed Taylor Orchestra album covers
Discogs listing page for the Creed Taylor Orchestra

You can sample the albums on youtube, you can buy MP3 downloads from Boomkat, or listen in on SOMA FM Secret Agent.

Fear of Automation

ZDNet has a good summary of a few recent reports on automation, a subject I’ve covered here more than once.

The more interesting survey report is from a Harris Poll for ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace.

ZipRecruiter’s nationwide data shows 60% of job seekers believe fears around robots taking away jobs are overhyped while 2 in 5 employed job seekers (41%) believe their current job will be automated within their lifetime.

This is more than likely because workers asked, don’t see the big picture. They don’t get involved with decisions and discussions about how to cut cost and risk from their workflow.

I’m not saying that we’ll wake up one day and everything will be taken over by robots, that’s not the case at all. It’s worse than that, automation is insidious and for the most part, invisible.

The ZDNet article by  for Robotics also links to recent reports from MckInsey and Redwood Software. Greg points out that:

  • 4 in 5 job seekers agree that the current technology boom has left certain people (84%) and cities (78%) behind.
  • Half of job seekers (50%) say the introduction of the Internet has generally done more harm than good. Employed job seekers are more likely to agree with this sentiment than unemployed job seekers (53% employed vs. 40% unemployed).
  • 2 in 5 job seekers (44%) believe there is no such thing as a bad technological advancement.

What this ignores, for the 50% that thinks the Internet is good, is that without it, and the automation and communication it has enabled, the workplace would be very different today. And that is one way the creep of insidious automation has been taking over.

#TEDxBoulder2017

I got to attend my first TEDx Boulder yesterday, it was a good mix of both motivational speakers, those talking about lessons they’ve learned from personal experience, and some professional development speakers on the topic of CLIMATE and CHANGE. Overall an excellent way to spend an afternoon and early evening.

I’ve curated my tweets from the event into a Twitter Moment. If you have any questions, or feedback on the subjects, feel free to leave a comment or email the usual way.

The machines are coming – 2049?

It is notoriously difficult to predict the future. I lived my life at IBM, following Alan Kays 1982 aphorism

The best way to predict the future is to invent it

In my career I got many things right, and many things wrong. While Amazon was still a small time bookseller, and Youtube for the most part didn’t exist, it was obvious both business models would thrive. While I couldn’t convince IBM to pursue either of these opportunities with ny success, we demonstrated the technology perfectly. My “Wired for Life
Presentation contains some of my wins, and many of my losses.

It was much easier to build on these, especially the societal impact in my 2003 “Trends and Directions” presentation.  Societal impact is much easier to predict as you can demographic data, current trends and it’s pretty easy to extrapolate. Technology adoption is much harder.

Many of these predictions are not useful, after all who needs  a robot to write high school essays? Many though will continue to fundementally change work and life as we know it.

What they are though is a signal in the way the World Economic Forum predicts the technology will develop, and to some degree it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. Watching this and reading many of the “machines are coming” articles that have been published over the past 5-years, it’s easy to become depressed about the rise of automation, AI, and robots. In a year when the sequel for Blade Runner will finally appear on our screens, there are some key things to remember.

  1. There is no magic, no silver bullet – If they can’t explain it, or worse don’t understand it, they have not invented it. Machine learning is great, but the machines can only learn with the machine learning constraints they have.
  2. Listen to the doubters – Doubt is very different to dismissal. People who dismiss possibility out-of-hand either don’t understand the opportunity and the potential, or are afraid of the change. It’s the doubters who have thought things through and understand the problems and the weaknesses.
  3. Don’t fear automation – If you do, you will be left behind. Learn, adapt, change; if possible work to invent the future By all means be a doubter, don’t be a dismisser.
  4. Find a problem, don’t start with a solution – AI, Robotics, Big Data, Machine Learning, Algorithms, Neural Networks are all speciality fields, grabbing onto them and asking how can we use them isn’t useful. The more specific you can be about a problem that needs solving, the easier it will be to identify the correct technology.
  5. Be Human – the more we automate, the more important human interaction becomes. The more empathy you have for someone who has a problem, the more likely you are to be able to understand how to solve it. Empathy, the arts, sports and human interaction are all fields where robotics and automation are least likely to take over.

More Human than Human – Dr Eldon Tyrell, The Tyrell Corporation

RIP Darkus Howe

Darkus Howe was more Malcom-X than Martin Luther King Jr. I don’t expect most of my American friends have ever heard of him. In the late 1970’s and 1980’s he was the “Devil’s Advocate”.

For me, as far as black civil liberties go, he was the most influential for me. This debate. argument was typical of his style. He died on Saturday.

In The Heart Of Colorado’s Opioid Crisis, This Rural Doctor Is An Army Of One

Overdose deaths in Colorado in general have grown in the last decade, according to the Colorado Health Institute. In 2014, San Luis Valley-area healthcare providers began limiting how opioid drugs are prescribed. But, as High Country News reported, the resulting decline in how often painkillers were prescribed was followed by a surge in heroin use.

Here is a 3rd post in 2-days on the state of Rural America, I listened to this on Colorado Public Radio (CPR) on station KCFR to which I’m an evergreen subscriber.

It is worth stating the obvious, that since rural counties as much more sparsely populated, the numbers per 100,000 can be illustrated much more starkly. A rural county may have only 100,000 or fewer people. It is also worth noting that Colorado is a recreational Cannabis legal state, and this is allegedly under threat from new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. While it’s pretty impossible to die from direct overdose of cannabis, it does cause indirect death through accidents, but the total number of cannabis related deaths is miniscule compared to opioid overdose alone.

The three post illustrate the real problem with rural America, and this one for me explained one way HOW the opioid epidemic has come about.

Skinheads, Mods and youth subculture

In my medium feed at the weekend was a link to a post titled “British skinheads in the 1980s were young, pissed, and stylish as hell“. I scanned through the pictures, read the accompanying text, and see just a very small slither of a culture and a style that I and my friends wouldn’t have been associated with in 1972, and would have rejected. Yeah some of us were involved it fights at Football matches, it was of it’s time.

As I sit here today, my clothes are still inspired and styled by those days, I’m even comfortable with a #1 haircut. While Richard Allens books Skinhead, Suedehead, Boot Boys, Skinhead Escapes, Smoothies, Terrace Terrors, Boot Boys and the final Mod Rule chronicled a generation, it’s unlikely that any single person experienced more that a few of the fictionalised events as youth culture was moving too fast.

Where I grew up in Hemel Hempstead we were almost exclusively white, and with London our nearest big city which had been hugely multicultural, for hundreds of years, racism just wasn’t a thing. So the toxic, hatred filled skinhead imagery of the 1970’s – 80’s just doesn’t ring true for me.

There are a few interesting videos online, two of the best by Don Letts. Letts was the DJ at the Roxy Club and before that, Chaguaramas, and we were there on New Years Eve 40-years ago at the Clash gig, we walked out, our time had passed. Letts films, especially the story of Skinhead, and it’s predecessor, the Fred Perry Sponsored, Subculture of British Music and Street Style take a serious look at the genre. I’d love the chance to talk to Don one day.