Sunday, 13 February 2011

The spirit of Arthur Russell.

I was thinking this week about the song I'm going to post at the bottom, 'Another Thought' by Mount Florida. I can't remember what got me thinking about it, possibly it came onto my iPod shuffle. In many ways the EP that this song features on, 'Storm', along with its predecessor, 'Stealth', are two gateway records; records which I can see led me to many more records in my collection.

It was filled with obscure references to things which while my 19 year old self hadn't heard of yet were strangely intriguing. Unfamiliar names like 'Satie' and 'Muslimguauze' sat in song titles alongside some which I did know such as Jamaica Street.
After many a late night listening to this EP, sucked in by the four tracks of otherwordly dub, I asked the guy who had sold me the record about this band and if there were any other records by them. That weekend I was taken by said record shop guy, Mr. Jon McCue, to my second ever Optimo (my first had been a few years before in 1997 but I think I was too young to 'get it'.)
And so the door opened to all sorts of music which I had never heard and many, many new friends.

Later, I bought the second E.P. and I went home excited not only by the prospect of yet more slightly oddball music but by a set of records with a running design theme. (I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.)

The first track was instantly a hit. A warbling synthline introduces a big dub beat and then a beautiful female voice yearning for an erstwhile or faraway love. The words were credited to one Arthur Russell which at the time I assumed was someone that the guys in Mount Florida knew. It wasn't till a few years later that I was introduced to the original version, which I mistook for a cover of the Mount Florida track.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I vaguely recalled there was an interesting story behind this version which I thought might me nice added to my story of how I came to go to and therefore work at Optimo so I emailed Keith McIvor (Optimo and Mount Florida's J.D. Twitch) to ask a few questions about this track. It turned out there was indeed a great story, though it wasn't the one I'd thought about:

The cover you did was out way before any of the Soul Jazz compilations or the documentary 'Wild Combination', how had you first heard about Arthur Russell? At that point, how many of his records had you heard/bought?

In my teens and early 20s there used to be a Rough Trade magazine called "The Catalogue" which was full of information about records that Rough Trade / The Cartel distributed.
There was a lot of editorial in it and in one issue they had a feature about Arthur's "The World Of Echo". I didn't ever see a copy but he sounded like an interesting guy and was thus vaguely on my radar. A few years later, around 1994, I was reading some fanzine and there was a review of his "Another Thought" album that made it sound like something I had to hear so I bought a copy and became completely obsessed with it.
I have probably listened to it more than any other album and it inspired me in so many ways as well as helping me get through a rather low patch I was in at that time. I went on a mission to find everything he had ever recorded and was lucky that my sister was living in New York at that time and I went over to visit her on a number of occasions. New York record shopping then was maybe the best in the world and over the course of a few visits I found all his dance records and a few other bits and pieces.

By about 1999 I think i had almost everything he had ever had put out up until that point.

I seem to remember that there's a nice little story about how you met Madeline MacDonald, the vocalist who arranged and performed the song for you. Would you mind going into that for me? Had she heard the original before she arranged and sang it?

Madeline used to own a restaurant called "Madeline's" which is where the Korean restaurant on Argyle street is now. My then girlfriend lived around the corner and we used to eat there all the time. Madeline was quite a character and had been a professional singer so she used to do singing nights at the restaurant where after dinner she would sing torch songs. I was entranced by her voice and asked her if she would sing on a track we were working on.
We didn't let her hear the original song until after she had recorded it but gave her a typed sheet of the lyrics so she could work out her own arrangement.

Was the music written intentionally as a cover or did it just happen in a round-about way?

No, it was just an instrumental that I thought could be enhanced by having a vocal. I had struggled to write a lyric and then came up with the idea of using Arthur's lyrics.
In effect it's not really a cover as the music and the vocal phrasing bear no relation to the original song. It's really just a track with borrowed lyrics (he is of course credited with this). Just to make it more confusing, although it's called "Another Thought", the words are from his song "A Little Lost" as our previous EPs first track had been called "Lost in Satie" and I didn't want to repeat the "Lost" theme.

The best thing about the track is that it led to a beautiful friendship. I had to do a lot of phone interviews with journalists when we were putting out the album. Matador (our label) in New York would arrange conference calls and one day I had to do 8 hours of these. There was one left to do and I was totally fed up and intended to make the last one as short as possible.
So, the phone goes again and the press person at Matador says "I have Kurt in Seattle on the line for you". Kurt was massive Arthur fan (quite a rarity at that time) and had wanted to interview me as he was blown away that someone had covered one of his songs. We instantly hit it off on so many levels - it was as if i had an identical twin on the other side of the world albeit one who was short and gay. i think we did the interview in about three minutes and then ended up chatting for over two hours (every so often getting interrupted by the press person to see if everything was ok as they couldn't understand why it was taking so long).

He remains a friend to this day and we have met up a couple of times and his writing has inspired me greatly. We both joke that the spirit of Arthur was guiding us towards each other.

Ten years later and the piece Kurt wrote is still online!

The album, 'Arrived Phoenix' is available on iTunes, do you know if there's any plans for the E.P.s to become available to download or are they just going to remain vinyl only 'oddities'?

Vinyl only I reckon which I kind of like.

So here's a link to a pretty scratchy rip of Mount Florida's 'Another Thought'. It should be pretty apparent by now that I have played this copy a lot so apologies for the surface noise. If you like it, go buy a copy of your own. There's a few on discogs.

Oh, and THANK YOU ARTHUR! May your spirit continue to guide us all to places and people with whom we belong.

*EDIT* There's now a version of this track up on Twitch's soundcloud page so you don't have to deal with my battered rip.
(From the vault - 1999) Mount Florida - Another Thought (Arthur Russell "cover") by JD Twitch

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Lost In Music.

It's a bit of a funny one but Larry and I have known each other for nearly ten years and have been DJing together for four of them yet I don't think I've ever been record shopping with him. This might not seem that strange as I realise that record shopping has changed quite a bit over the last few years and that it's much more common for people to search for music via the internet before buying or just to go and download it but I'm a romantic old soul who still loves the ritual of record shopping and I'm fairly certain Larry does too as he still buys records. Yet we've never been to a shop together.

Perhaps one reason for this is that Larry, as I have mentioned in previous posts, plays a lot more modern music than I do so he'd be much more likely to be found in the frankly excellent Rubadub or Monorail than the dusty shit-tips I frequent which don't even have new-fangled things like websites. (I should also point out my slight guilt in not buying many new records as I realise that we in Glasgow should be very grateful indeed to still have not one but TWO records shops with nice staff who really know what they are talking about.)

There's something about second-hand record shopping that really appeals to me: the uncertainty of there being anything worth looking for; the real knowledge that you need to get the really good thing; the chance, no matter how slim, that there might be a REAL bargain in the somewhere, getting to know the staff so they point you in the direction of the new arrival or even sometimes put stuff aside for you. Even the dust that invariably gets on your hands (it's really not for molysmophobics) and the sore back and pins and neddles in your feet you sometimes get bending over the pound bins. These things all add up to create a perfect little ritual.

Recently, I've been having some really good luck digging in the crates in Glasgow and found a few oddities, some old classics and on two occasions that holiest of grails: a record in the pound bin worth substantially more than a mere quid.

As well as being a romantic old soul, I'm also generous so here's some links to a few of the cheaper tracks I picked up today. You should be able to find these online for a few quid, so if you like them, please go buy the record. They can be such things of beauty and as Keats said

"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."

Now I don't think you could say that about an MP3, could you?

Sister Sledge - Lost In Music (Special 1984 Nile Rodgers Mix)

Featuring Simon Le Bon and Andy Taylor from Duran Duran on 'background vocals' as they were in the studio next door to Nile, recording 'Wild Boys'.
Quite why 'Lost In Music' needed another mix or quite what the Wild Boys contributed is another matter.

Carrie McDowell - Uh Uh No No (Sunrise Mix)

Carrie McDowell - Uh Uh No No (Club Dub)

Carrie McDowell was signed to Motown in the mid to late 80s and this was the only single to make any impact on the charts. Whilst some of the lyrics in the chorus are a bit clanky in my opinion, the music is good enough to give it charm. Also her voice is fantastic. I never would have guessed she was white either. There's a dub if you don't agree (or do agree about the lyrics.)
Carrie now lives in Tennesee and does Christian albums with her husband, so I guess a song espousing sexual abstinence is a fitting legacy to be carrying.