Listening to music

Sometime contact and innovative UK Dj/Producer Greg Wilson has a 33-minute interview, I assume based on his Living to music series that he has been running for a couple of years now. Greg talks about actually sitting and actually listening to the music, while not doing anything else. Greg makes a good point about being able to focus while listening.

Which reminds me of being about 14, and converting my clothes cuboard in my bedroom into a mini-recording, listening booth. I had a small stool, papered the walls in music newpaper and magazines, wired up a small red light, and I’d retreat in there, close the doors and listen to albums. At the start of Greg’s interview he talks about hearing early reggae and Trojan singles. Which brings up another thread, which is how influential the West Indian and Jamaican immigration to the UK was in the 1950’s.

While it was far from easy for those who came to help rebuild Britain, after the second world war, what’s true is that they had undeniable impact on music and culture. Don Letts Subculture series covers the impact and the musical impact, Robert Elms talks about the impact on fashion and clothing. The whole sub-culture was so anti- the main stream of the time.

That 1960’s impact certainly opened up minds and wallets to the Jazz, Funk and eventually disco in the 1970’s. Fascinating stuff seen in retrospect, in the fourth episode, Letts nicely shows the how that merged with the Punk music revolution, the subject of my last blog post, which on the Roxy Club, where Letts was the DJ.

The complete Letts six part series Subculture, is available via the Fred Perry Subculture website. If you are interested in this fasset of British culture, I’d recommend watching it all. My personal story is in the latter part of Episode-3, Episode-4 and the early part of Episode-5. I managed to acquire these as MP4 files and look forward to watching them all in sequence one day.

For the record, my Dad, Frank Cathcart, almost always wore white socks and September 23, 1973 was my 15th birthday and the first All Nighter at Wigan. As Robert Elms says in Episode 4 of Letts Subculture, Soulboys, “there was a line across the country about Luton, and you didn’t cross it.” – We lived on that line, often straddling it.

Greg Wilsons latest Living to Music was Shuggie Otis ‘Inspiration Information’. Its a great album, give it a real listen.

The Roxy, and walking out on the Clash

Well I listened to the Robert Elms, BBC London show from Wednesday, it had a fascinating regular feature from Russell Clarke, the “rock and roll routemaster“.

roxyThis week Russell was covering the history of the Roxy Night Club in London. Between Russells description and Roberts memories of London and the London club scene at the time they captured it perfectly for me. I went on to read Paul Markos “The Roxy London WC2: A Punk History”. The book contains some great qoutes that seem to sum up the dance music scene at the time too, one from Billy Idol:

We gravitated towards gay discos because they were much more tolerant of young people like us, being different. They left us alone, everything thing sprang from that gay scene.”

and another from Boy George:

Gay clubs were the only safe havens, Rods, Louises, Chageramas in Neal St, and the Sombrero in High St Kensington.

and indeed, many of these were the clubs of my teen dance music years, including for me and our small group from the ‘burb s, Angie, Jane, Barbs, Paul, Colin plus Andrew and Euan from Cuffley, Mash in Greek St among other clubs.

What the Elms show and especially Markos book did, was answer one of the big questions for me thats being eating away at me for years. I recall going to Chaguaramas in a then pretty run down Covent Garden many times. In 1975 it was one of the best Jazz Funk clubs in London. It was tiny place, like many of the best clubs at the time, it was in the basement. Through the summer of 1975 it was fine, but over the next year it slipped into decline, starting to show from the wear and tear of being a tiny club that was pretty busy.

Over on my triathlon blog, I wrote back in 2008 about when “disco died”. I ended that blog with

Anyone out there confirm or correct my memories? Which year was it? Was there a party New Years Eve 1976 with a punk band ? Who were the band that played that night? and was it chaguaramas or Shagaramas? I must admit, I always thought it was the latter.

Well it looks like it was indeed New Years Day. Which meant I was there at the start of the seminal Punk Revolution in London actually got its home, the Roxy. Me, as I said over in the other blog, when the Clash came on at midnight, we walked out in disgust. There is a great video on the Roxy on Facebook, as far as I remember, I never went back.

Footnote: I emailed Russell Clarke just before writing this. He replied promptly, in his reply was this link, which is a compiled list of all the nights and bands that played at the Roxy. Case closed, no gig on 31-12-76.

You can actually read Markos book for free, here in the google cache. If the link doesn’t work, search for chaguaramas night club and take the first result that google returns. They mention us at the top of page-61.

Britain vs America

On a pure headcount basis, for talent Britain appears to beat America hands down. Of course, it doesn’t there is so much “undiscovered” talent in America. As a Brit’ abroad, I regularly get asked why either people or a certain style or culture seems to catch on and then move over to the US. Most recently this came up on Greg Wilsons’ blog in relation to electronic dance music and here is the answer I gave. It does though, in my opinion, apply to almost everything.

America is a very different place from the movies, and a massive country compared to the UK. Leaving aside the racial aspect to dance music, and from the 1970’s the fact it was heavily tied to the gay scene; and the disco is dead revolt of the late 1970’s, all of which made it much harder for dance music to get heard.

America is a culture, where the country is massive and they only way to succeed, largely, is to associate with established clubs/cults. You dress, think and act like them, and to succeed, you are then the best amongst them. This applys in across both geographic and societal barriers.

There are almost no national media outlets, even today, those that are have to pander to the masses, or fail. People, music etc. that are out of the norm’ are mostly excluded, even the extremes are pretty normal and/or manufactured rather than organic. News travels slow.

Compare that to the UK, the country is VERY (geographically) small, people live next to each other, on top of each other, in close proximity.  All media, for the most part is national, news travels fast. Something that catches on in the UK only has to be 1/100th as popular as the USA, or even less.

In the UK, different is celebrated, not shunned. Add to that a more tolerant sexual society, a less racial society, and a more progressive music industry where change makes money, not controlling interests protecting their investment. Dance music came along, it caught on with a small crowd, it was celebrated, successful and grew in the UK, after a while each generation moves on, my daughter(29) now bemoans the state of dance music, much as I did back in the 1980’s, but it will carry on.

The same thing happens here in the USA, but they are complaining and comparing the AOR music from 1980/90’s while EDM has captured the youth market because the music business no longer controls the distribution channels in the same way.

American pie

The irony of tonight caught me off guard. I watched the 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony over the Internet live from London via some web trickery, then I set out at 8pm here in Texas to deliver neighborhood association newsletters.

After about 50 of my 134 houses I realised as I sweated in the 95f temps that the iconic Don MacLean song had finally come home,

Back in 1972, age 14, in the UK,  I had a paper round, I had one odd those cassette players with the piano style keys, I had a rack on the back of my bike I Used to strap it to and play the music.

And here I am, 40 years later delivering the news, “I can still remember how that music used to make me smile”.

In 40 years time I wonder how many of today’s generation either watching at home, or at the Olympic stadium will be inspired by tonight?

Maybe they’d be happy for a while,
But February made me shiver with every paper I’d deliver.

Sun God – Ramsey Lewis

I really didn’t know what to expect from Ramsey Lewis, and having never been to the One World Theatre in Austin, my anicipation was high. I wasn’t disappointed.

The One World Theater is the corollary of many of Austins music venues, its small, intimate and and has great sound. The Ramsey Lewis trio, plus Lewis, barely needed amplification and were all very clear. I was in the isle seat, center left just 3-rows back. I bought my Olympus SLR camera and got it in without trouble, but based on an early experience with a woman shooting video, taking pictures was going to be difficult. Besides, I really wanted to just enjoy the music.

Sun Goddess revisitedThe whole evening was more souful than I could have imagined; given the clarity of the music, the proximity of the stage and the small audience. Lewis played a number of his well known tracks including the 60’s classics Wade in the Water and the In Crowd, he also did a fantastic solo piano of Betcha By Golly Wow, a Stylistics song and a Beatles classic, which now, almost a month later, I’ve forgotten. The theater was hushed, Lewis was in fine, lively form, and the piano sounded perfect.

Ultimately, as a true Lewis fanboy, Lewis and some of his older tracks live was the high point of my concert going experiences. Lewis’s 1970 album the Piano Player would have been fantastic to watch them record. Maurice White from Earth, Wind and Fire was the drummer for that album, and the tracks were arranged by Charles Stepney who also arranged those key influential early Earth, Wind and Fire albums. [I even added Lewis version of Golden Slumbers to the wikipedia page since it was missing!]. The other member of the Ramsey Lewis trio on the Piano Player was Cleveland Eaton, one time Count Basie Orchestra leader, who went on to record this seminal jazz/funk/disco classic, Bama Boogie Woogie.

The circle of musical life was complete for me when Lewis later came back on for an encore to play the title track from the album Sun Goddess. I’d heard this back in 1974, the harmonies, the beat, the sound changed my outlook on music and to a degree, my life. A few years after that I got a tattoo, and was a massive Earth, Wind & Fire fan.

After the concert was over I waited quietly outside hoping to get a picture with Ramsey Lewis, he came out about 30-minutes later. A woman appeared from nowhere with a stack of vinyl albums for him to sign, he seemed slightly testy. Then some other guy with an old school 35mm film camera stopped him and asked for a picture; I walked alongside him, thanked him for his great music, told him sun goddess had changed my life; after 2-complete sets, instead of the vibrant guy on stage, Lewis had taken on the demeanor of a 76 year old man, late at night. I didn’t ask for a picture, afterall I’ve got the tattoo.

Lewis did an interview and played piano with the KUT folks while in town. You can hear that here, or download the MP3 here.

Sun Goddess revisited

It’s just over a month now until Ramsey Lewis does his Sun Goddess revisited set, up at the One World Theatre in Austin…. just how good is this, re-edited by the Late Night Tuff Guy.

Here, Ramsey Lewis himself describes “Whats going on” and the playlist has the original version. It’s the summer of 1973 all over again…

Fore music

The great thing about music is it brings people together in so many great ways, the great thing about sharing love of similar music with my kids, is I get recommendations on some great stuff, I’m totally hooked on this Jamie Lidell track after a 3 a.m. skype session with Oli.


Then last night Kathleen organized line dancing lessons at the Broken Spoke, all I can tell you is there was a lot of trepidation in this house before Ronnie and I left. I got to learn the Texas 2-step with Leslie Tom and she was a great partner.

Sven gets vocal again

I just ran the stats on my little Sandisc Sansa MP3 player, I’ve had it for 3-years now, it was a great buy and yep, cheap, and no it doesn’t work with iTunes. I’ve done a few file reloads and am starting to think about music selection for the marathon I have to run at the end of the Challenge Roth ironman-distance triathlon in July. Yep, MP3 players are allowed on the run.

Overwhelmingly, the number one MP3 played on my sandisc is my Houston dance-music friend, Sven Neers’ “sven gets vocal again” mix from February 2010. It’s a perfect, uplifting, uptempo, happy/vocal house mix. It used to be available via Svens soundcloud page, at http://soundcloud.com/neer-music/sven-gets-vocal-again but it’s been taken down. There is a track listing here on his old blog and you can find it online here.

Fee’s how much longer?

I’m so over paying fees for events, it’s such a rip-off. I just bought a ticket for my first ever visit to the One World Theatre here in Austin[the home of star’s from the 1970’s and 1980’s], I’m going to see Ramsey Lewis do Sungoddess Revisited. It was this track and the album, Sungoddess that introduced me to Earth Wind  and Fire and a life long love of their music and harmonies, heck I even got the tattoo in 1976. So I wanted to get a decent seat and went for a “prime seat”, price $75. Yeah, I know.

Then came the sticker shock, for an entirely computerized print at home system, I paid an additional $14.50 in fees. One of the fees was listed as simply a transaction fee, maybe this is the fee they are paying to the credit card company so I could use my card, well I’ll get some of that back as I used a cashback  card. Which still leaves an $11 fee for someone sitting down and typing the name of the event, a description, posting a picture and setting up the web page. Alright, maybe I could pay a small amount, say 20c towards the license of the software, and another $1 max. for the system time on the server, but at best thats’ $4.50. Since they actually use seatadvisor.com for bookings, the fees should be even lower.

I had thought about going their to see the Average White Band in October, but not $14.50 worth of fees. For the record, it’s not that I can’t afford it, it’s that it’s a ripoff and a barrier to entry to those who can’t. Enjoy Sungoddess…