Monday, March 24, 2008

Blood and Fire's founder Steve Barrow interviewed

This interview with Steve Barrow reveals nice bit of background information on the runnings of Blood and Fire Records (best reggae and dub reissue label bar none).

Actually, now I notice more interviews with him so I may as well link them too:

Nice Up interview with Steve Barrow

Reggae News interview with Steve Barrow

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Home Studio Recording then and now

I was dipping once again into Eddie Shaw's 'Black Monk Time' (a really entertaining read whether you like the Monk's music or not), when I came across this passage:

...We found the only studio in Heidelburg, situated in the house of of an elderly man. We had never seen a recording studio before, and he had never recorded a beat band before. We stacked our equipment against the wall, in a room containing just enough standing room for five people and a couch. The old man then warned us that the recording wouldn't sound good if we played loud. We recorded two songs, originally written by Dave and Gary. In compliance with the old man's directions, we almost whispered the words to "Boys are Boys," and "There She Walks."
Having listened to western music in East Germany, Angelika's new knowledge was somehow disappointing. If only the East Germans knew. It had to be one of the best kept secrets of the cold war. How many kids would enjoy those romantic reveries if they knew how the records were made? "Only You," her favorite song in the East Zone, would never sound the same. Certainly it had been recorded in someone's house, as in an old-fashioned photographer's studio with a couch and family photographs, and cooking smells from the kitchen.
I wonder what the 'old man' thought of this recording session - and exactly what was his 'studio' intended for when not being used by four ex-servicemen stationed in Germany 40+ years ago.
Strange how so much has changed in a few short years since the introduction of the digital audio work station. A few microphones, a functioning computer, some free software and you have a recording studio. Add some instruments, production skills and a heap of talent and you've got all you need to make great music and chase the big four out of town! They make product, not music.
I found out that Dave Day of the Monks, the world's foremost (possibly only) exponent of the electrified banjo passed on recently. His playing on 'Black Monk Time' is a great contribution to the music world and surely his like will never been seen or heard again.

It is 42 years since the release of "Black Monk Time" and it still kicks ass due in large part to Dave's staccato hacking and chopping on the banjo strings. Great stuff indeed. Surprisingly unavailable on iTunes so you might just have to find it on CD. A vinyl copy might actually be worth something. Very rare I'm sure. No sign of it on E-bay at present. You can get the CD as an import from Amazon, or so the Monks' official website says. Oh, and the 'Black Monk Time' album was not actually recorded in the old man's parlour! It was recorded in a 'real' studio...

... and a special treat is seeing and hearing the singular uberbeat style of the Monks in action in these YouTube videos.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The King of Dub

I don't know where this clip is from but it is a real delight to actually see video footage ('inchage' in this case perhaps) of Osbourne Ruddock better known as King Tubby. Thanks to Steve Barker for passing the link on.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mikey Dread RIP

Sadly Michael Campbell aka Mikey Dread passed away on March 15th 2008.
Another great artist and performer has passed on.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Mikey Dread Battles Brain Tumour

Sending some positive vibes to legendary DJ and producer Mr. Michael Campbell - sincerely hoping he can overcome his illness.

A Very Bad and Desperate Idea

Music industry fools run around around like headless chickens
or something like that...

If the record companies receive this tithe from the ISPs there is little hope of it ever reaching the artists (as recently proven by the news that the millions in damages won by the RIAA have not been disbursed to artists in any significant amounts). This is yet another desperate bid by the big 4 to shore up their failing profits and to forestall the collapse of their antiquated business model. As I've said before, the record companies need to break apart their various departments and go independent if they wish to survive in business.

To be remotely fair, the record companies would need to agree to some kind of no contest clause - so that regardless of what music content is shared online they would not attempt to interfere in any way with the natural order of P2P file sharing. They should be legally required to take the undeserved pound of flesh and shut the hell up.

Judging by this report and several others in the recent past, these talking heads know very little about anything and their primary role is to protect failing businesses by curbing progress and creativity. The welfare of the artists is not a significant consideration in any of these discussions or proposals.

It is reassuring to know how desperate they really are and that it is now and ever will be safe to download freely with roughly a 0.000488% chance of being shaken down by the so called 'content providers'. One day, we will all look back at this time and laugh, grimly, because there is little chance that human stupidity is on the wane...


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2007

A friend sent me this link today - almost every word is true.
It seems that nowadays it would be almost impossible to compile a 50 Most Lovable list!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hammond Organs then and now

I just stumbled across this page.
The 'brief history' is indeed very brief but interesting. I can't imagine what sort of sounds Henry Ford would have been getting from the first Hammond organ but I can imagine uncomfortable scenes of the immensely wealthy and powerful Ford 'entertaining' his guests with his renditions of popular church music of the day. Anyone know any details about this?

And I wonder if the jurors had not been cloth eared dolts (who couldn't tell the difference between a real pipe organ and an electric tonewheel organ), what would the Hammond organ have been called? An electric piano? Surely not. Perhaps an electromagnetic harmonium?

I didn't know they were still making B3s. Only $23,950! But as anyone with a love of the organ stylings of Jackie Mittoo knows, the organ really needs to be well broken in to get that texture and color in the sound. A bit out of tune is usually a good thing too!

They even have their own sound module!

The ultra modern models just don't look right. I wonder what they sound like...

A more thorough history of Laurens Hammond, his early inventions and the Hammond organ itself is here.
Well worth reading (the site itself needs a lot of repair as does the punctuation, grammar etc. but in this age of instantaneous publication I think we can all turn a blind eye...)
"In the mid-60's Hammond began to recognize the increasing influence of men like Jimmy Smith, Groove Holmes and Brother Jack McDuff on the American musical scene. Without much effort or concentration, Hammond had cornered the jazz business for years simply because of the love affair between the artists and the B-3, the only instrument on the market giving them the "dirty" sound they were looking for".

Ireland to be Guinea Pig in ISP piracy battle?

IFPI Takes Irish ISP (Eircom) to Court
Let's just hope this suit gets thrown out.
Eircom’s lawyers...say that Eircom was “not on notice of specific illegal activity that infringed the rights of the companies”, adding that it was under no legal obligation to monitor traffic on its network.
I agree wholeheartedly...

More on the same subject

Publishers Abandon DRM

Publishers Phase out Piracy Protection on Audio Books
...but who actually 'reads' audio books?

FCC Hints at Taking Action Against Comcast

FCC Hints at taking action - exactly what kind of action is completely unclear. What is also unclear is if Comcast are continuing to go beyond acceptable network management activity or if they have been shamed into opening up the pipes to unthrottled P2P traffic again.
Does anyone know?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Books about Dub and Reggae

A few books on my favourite subject and my impressions of them. Not reviews as I'm sure none of my comments would do justice to the many hours, months, years of research and toil that went into making them.
The Rough Guide to Reggae
Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton

I can succinctly describe this book as indispensable reading for anyone interested in any of the Jamaican musical styles. Steve Barrow is almost legendary to lovers of reggae as possessing encyclopaedic knowledge of his chosen subject and significantly for his work as one of the main protagonists at Blood & Fire records (finest reissue label ever. No contest). I am now on my third copy of this great book. I gave away the first two copies - one to a visiting German young man (who helped me out with vocals on an electronic track titled 'Fleischtraum') in the hope that it would encourage his fledgling interest in this kind of music - the other to an kindly Rastafarian gentleman named Isachar while on a visit to Kingston. Not having much to offer in the form of money to thank him for his generous guidance I thought it the least I could do. I had little else of value and I really hope he didn't think me a skinflint. I was in fact giving him something I valued highly.
Well, that was a few years ago and I recently got around to getting another copy. It really has been updated and contains heaps of new entries.
When this book is really complete (if such a thing is possible with a guide to reggae) then it must surely attain biblical size and length! I'm sure much has been left out to fit the Rough Guide format...

There is a subjectivity to Barrow and Dalton's writing, but I have found the recommendations to be almost unfailingly spot-on for my taste. Others may differ on this aspect...
If you have money to spend on some Ska, Reggae, Dub or whatever - buy this book so that you can buy wisely. You won't be disappointed.
Solid Foundation
An Oral History of Reggae
David Katz
I did not expect this to be anywhere near as good as it is. But is an excellent read, whether to read through or later dip in and out of as I tend to do. Now where is it again? Anyway, I'm made aware (by one of the subjects of this book) that Mr. Katz takes his London-based self-imposed Reggae chronicling duties very seriously indeed, sometimes apparently to the point of irritating his subjects...somehow his methods seem to pay off.
When reading the book however, he is evidently at his best when invisible, in the background, weaving the various oral histories into a chronological tapestry that holds together remarkably well.
Many well known names are included, offering their take on how things came about - reassuringly contradicting each other on occasion. But more importantly, when reading we hear the voices and opinions of many lesser known and often more interesting characters in the fascinating story of Jamaican music.
One baffling thing is that Prince Alla (ne Keith Blake) is purported to be nicknamed 'gentle giant' due to his stature. Having met the great Prince Alla (he's on a track on my first podcast) I can certify that he is shorter than me. That would make him about 5' 7" which is nothing to be ashamed of but certainly not the kind of height that would result in such a moniker. Unless we're talking about the sarcastic irony of 7 foot tall Rasta giants.
Either way, he is a gentle and lovely man and a giant in Reggae.

I must assume that this apparent anomaly in Mr. Katz's work is one of a kind but the thrust of this commentary - is let the people speak for themselves and do your work in the background, both of which he has done very well...

Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae
Michael E. Veal

OK, before I begin, I should say that I tried very hard to give this one a fair chance knowing that it would be very difficult for any mortal to 'get it right' as far as this Dub-obsessed personage is.
Some background: It was May 2007 and I was preparing for a rare bit of music related travel to Sweden for a music festival where I was to join a group of musicians/producers to collaborate on a Dub project for a week. This joint effort was to culminate in a live festival performance (of Dub? well weirdly yes...) which did indeed happen. So while happily wallowing in all things DUB at the best of times I thought 'you can never have enough' and found a book called 'Dub' - wow! I don't think there was one before this. I couldn't wait to read what kind of approach was taken, what kind of material explored.

I will not go into much detail. I've tried to forget as much as possible. This is the driest post-grad academic effort imaginable. So much of it is drawn from other popular texts on the subject (yes with attribution/credit, so what?) and when original it is merely a bone dry dissection of some great and some totally obscure dubs that in the reading give no hint whatsoever of their musicality. It is almost like he doesn't actually like the music but must study and understand it and write a dissertation - upon whose instructions? There is not much passion for the music here.
I have tried dipping back in. Still a sad experience. In fact this book was my main inspiration for getting another copy of the Rough Guide to Reggae (see above) to restore something that was lost in reading Mr. Veal's bookish treatise.

Perhaps it is best to not attempt to intellectualize any form of music as I have always maintained - except when the music purports to be a musically intellectual form - which last time I listened Dub does not do. Clever, but not bookish.

The difference between this Dub/Reggae book and others, is that I don't think Michael Veal spent very much time really listening to the music (and actually enjoying it!) and may be conflating the academic process of intellectualizing jazz and similar forms with the genuine need for attention to be duly paid to a genre that demands respect and book space. But surely not on the same terms, being so starkly different (and better!). Others have clearly devoted much of their lives to their subject. I respect that immensely in writers such as Steve Barrow, David Katz, Lloyd Bradley.
Michael Veal, better get back to the North American stuff.

Really, I don't mean to be unkind...

If anyone knows of any books I've missed, let me know in the comments.
And no, I have not forgotten Katz's 'People Funny Boy' but I just don't feel lunatic enough to comment on it...
Roger Steffens has a new one out, that might be my next read...

Dub Echoes film finished at last

Brazilian filmmaker Bruno Natal has finally completed Dub Echoes which is probably the first film of its kind. There have been many documentaries on the subject of Jamaican music of various periods but I think none that are devoted entirely to Dub. The trailer is stylish and well made and the cast of subjects/interviewees, while understandably incomplete is certainly a good representation of some of the originators of the form, subsequent practitioners and more recent innovators and emulators.

Can't wait to see it.
Here's the website:
One thing though...reggae is dance music, so why did they say this?:
"At first, one might think that reggae and dance music don’t have much to do with each other. But that’s a false perception."
Baffling (and false) statement. I can only imagine they were referring to generic electronic dance music - not music that is intended for dancing to in may be a language thing...

Who owns what anyway and why?

And who decides and when?
Ars Technica ran this level-headed piece yesterday. Not a scintillating read but some very good points are made...

History suggests copyright crusade is a lost cause

Monday, March 3, 2008

Lucky Bag of Links for Today

We thought the Japanese had a democracy?
Apparently not.

This puts a lot of the last 50+ years in perspective
Certainly things we have known for long time, but good to seem them diligently compiled in one lucid article.

Moses Hit the Acacia Bark Bong or something
This explains a lot (maybe)

The Happiness of Europeans...
Meaningless nonsense of course. But it surprises me that the Irish are third happiest...
this might explain it:
"The survey shows that trust in society is very, very important. The countries that scored highest for happiness also reported the highest levels of trust in their governments, laws and each other."
So gullibility and a trusting nature are the necessary conditions for achieving happiness are they?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Lucky Bag of Links for today

RIAA up to its usual tricks
Hardly surprising considering the fact that they are corporate lobbyists.

What else?

Microsoft is just another corrupt US corporate entity?

What a terrible surprise this must be for the suckers who would buy and use MS crap anyway...


Well, yes we are wrong but it's the children's fault due to predisposition...

and again:

soon enough the RIAA will collapse
due to its own ineptitude, immorality and plain and simple wrongness. Big up to the University of San Francisco.

That's today's Lucky Bag. Perhaps not timely but one hopes relevant...