- Zambezi – The Fun Company
- Rocks Off – Rolling Stones
- Golden Gaze – Ian Brown
- Night Over Manaus – Boozoo Bajou
- Reflexos – Quinteto Villa Lobos and Luiz Eca
- Ali Baba – John Holt
- Untouchable Sound – Make Up
- Blips, Drips and Strips - Stereolab
- D.C.B.A.-25 – Jefferson Airplane
- 90% of Me is You – Gwen McCrae
- Hercules – Aaron Neville
- Sagittarius Black – Timothy McNealy
- Soul Power – Lil Ray & The Fantastic Four
- Ain’t’ it Funky Now – Grant Green
- Queen St. Gang - Arzachel
- Holy Are You – The Electric Prunes
- Loving Cup – Rolling Stones
- Every Baby Cries the Same – Make Up
- Outer Bongolia – Stereolab
- White Light/White Heat – The Velvet Underground
I became acquainted with the guy who owned a pager in 1996 whilst living on Hanworth Road. As well as having a common interest in Word War 2 and its associated hardware, we shared a fondness for a certain kind of jazz. I established this whilst browsing through his record collection and finding a copy of London Jazz Classics, which includes Atlas by The Robin Jones Seven and Ta Caliente by Patsy Gallant, both of which I included on the notional compilation I imagined putting together in 1993. Another indicator was that he headed a Latin jazz-funk outfit called The Multi Headed Vibe Set, who played in and around our university.
The guy who owned a pager no longer owned a pager, he had a mobile phone. For a while we worked together at the Excelsior Hotel outside of Heathrow Airport, where we’d drink ‘whiskey tops’ at the end of 12 hour shifts – bottles of Budweiser with a shot of whiskey dispensed into them when our manager’s back was turned. We might then repair to his flat, on the border between Hounslow and Isleworth, and listen to the jazz, funk, ska and reggae he was accumulating onto MiniDisc. It was the ease with which he put together such compilations that would eventually persuade me to invest in the format.
The guy who now owned a mobile phone introduced us to something else that was to play a pivotal role in the development of ‘my sound’. In Chinatown, on Newport Place below what was then the King’s Head, was the Dive Bar. In this old cellar, every Saturday, the Trojan Sound System selector Earl Gateshead would play a mixture of deep funk, soul, ska, rocksteady and Latin jazz. It made a nice change from the more regular haunts – Brentford (White Horse, The Griffin), Isleworth (Town Wharf, London Apprentice) or Hounslow (Shannons, The Rifleman) – and might sometimes be followed with a night out at ‘Blow Up’ at the Wag on Wardour Street.
The Ladies of Varades gets its name from the former commune in the Loire-Atlantique department of Western France where a group of us hired a gite for a week. We pronounced ‘Varades’ to rhyme with ‘ladies’, giving rise to the title of my compilation, and referred to the nearby town of Ancenis as ‘Ants nest’ – went to an outdoor music festival there and behaved like buffoons. The rest of the holiday was spent having barbecues, taking trips to la supermarché, lounging about in the sun, and drinking bottled beer and plastic flagons of red wine mostly to the sounds myself and the guy who used to own a pager, but now owned a mobile phone, brought with us.
Earl Gateshead spinning records down at The Dive Bar.
It was a good time to be buying vinyl. Independent records labels were compiling all sorts of obscura, and I would journey to places such as Intoxica on Portobello Road in search of them (followed by a pint or two in the Portobello Star). Zambezi by The Fun Company is the first track on Keb Darge’s Legendary Deep Funk, an excellent compendium of soulful funk and rare groove that was to provide this compendium’s backbone.
Around the same period I made it my mission to acquaint myself with the ‘golden age’ of the Rolling Stones and took myself to a second-hand record shop in Twickenham intent on picking up any one of the four albums that constituted the canon. I came away with Exile on Main Street and was instantly smitten. I bought into it totally – the music, the production, the artwork, the fact this was the Stones’ only double album, what they were wearing at the time, that it was recorded on the French Riviera. Rock’s Off is the opening track, and it would also have been mine if not for The Fun Company.
Night Over Manaus by Boozoo Bajou originally came next, which is essentially chill-out music released not long before the term became ubiquitous (No Eyes’s future husband was the source). I wasn’t happy with the transition and retroactively slipped in Golden Gaze by Ian Brown from his album Golden Greats, an album that received a fair amount of play during or week in the Loire (supplied by our Cornish friend). This allows for a more satisfying connection with the next track – Reflexos by Quinteto Villa Lobos and Luiz Eca, taken from Blue Brazil Volume 2 (Blue Note In A Latin Groove), a compendium of jazz inflected bossa nova and samba that the guy who used to own a pager introduced me to.
Ali Baba has become something of a reggae classic over the years, but it was relatively obscure back in 2000 and I had great difficulty finding a copy on vinyl. If you can lay your hands on it, Hottest Hits Volume 3 on Treasure Isle also contains the excellent John Holt tune Stealing Stealing and Joya Landis’s equally impressive Moonlight Lover. If not, I’m sure you can find it on Spotify.
Although the Make Up were current (only just: the band dissolved the same year) I still felt they were mining something distinctively retrospective and assuredly not in keeping with current trends. I could sense in them the same sort of louche abandon I was getting from Exile-era Stones, less the drug induced decadence. Ian Svenonius’s hair augmented the impression. Untouchable Sound comes as quite a shock after the previous tune, but I think it works.
With its jerky rhythms, Blips, Drips and Strips carries off where Stereolab’s last LP – Dots and Loops – left off, although the album that spawned it – Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night – is not quite as good. You should still buy it, though.
When I bought my copy of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow I fully expected using White Rabbit for my next anthology. Instead, D.C.B.A.–25 made the cut. I probably should have included both, but I had no shortage of material to work with and D.C.B.A.–25 carried less psychedelic baggage.
I seem to recall that All Back To Mine, compiled by a disc jockey named Sean Rowley, was not cheap compared to some of the other compilations I’d been buying. Still, I filched two tracks from it, so maybe it was money well spent. The first is 90% of Me is You by the American soul singer Gwen McRae which, incidentally, the English hip hop group Cash Crew sampled to great effect on their 1990 single Green Grass. Hercules by Aaron Neville was similarly utilised by CJ Mackintosh and Dave Dorrell when they remixed I Come Off by Young MC in the same year. Hercules had been in my possession for some time, on the Acid Jazz collection Totally Wired 6 I purchased in 1992. Only now did I have a concept for a compilation that could contain it.
Sagittarius Black by Timothy McNealy, Soul Power by Lil Ray & The Fantastic Four are Keb’s final contribution to my playlist. This is the sort of thing Earl Gateshead liked to play down at the Dive Bar, and what I might play ‘back at mine’ afterwards.
Grant Green’s cover of James Brown’s Ain’t it Funky Now is taken from another series of Blue Note albums that were doing the rounds: precisely, Blue Break Beats Volume Two. This one was relatively inexpensive, and a little hit and miss – as many of these sort of records often are.
Queens St. Gang by Arzachel is a peculiar number I acquired by way of a peculiar compilation entitled Battle For The Planet Of The Breaks. Perhaps tellingly, it’s written by the guy who composed the theme music for Grandstand and the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon – Keith Mansfield – although he was never actually a member of the band, and how he came to make his contribution is unclear. How to describe it? Psychedelic progressive rock might do.
The Electric Prunes are probably better known for the psychedelic garage-rock of tunes such as I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night). Come their third album, the group had been coerced into working with classically trained composer and arranger David Axelrod, whose vision was far more progressive than their own. By the time of their the fourth album, Release of an Oath, the original line-up had departed, to be replaced with session players, effectively leaving Axelrod in complete control. This was psychedelic rock of a very different kind. The garage elements completely gone and lavish string arrangements put in their place, Holy Are You becomes the climax of this compilation.
Or does it?
Mick Jagger is an under-rated lyricist. I don’t actually hold song lyrics in the high regard that some people do; they are beholden to the meter of their host and should behave accordingly. Mick Jagger understands this, which is why he can write lyrics like this:
I'm the man who walks the hillside in the sweet summer sun.
I'm the man that brings you roses when you ain't got none.
Notice how he’s the man who walks the hillside, and yet the same man that brings you roses. This is the correct emphasis but many lyricists would have missed it. Also observe the double negative in ‘ain’t got none’, which is a perfectly acceptable idiom within the vernacular of the blues but would be wholly inappropriate if Jagger was writing for the page. Lyrics are written to be sung, not spoken.
More Make Up, then the endlessly repetitive, instrumental groove of Stereolab’s Outer Bongolia, taken from the EP The First of the Microbe Hunters released in May 2000, which forced itself onto my playlist at the last minute. Lasting 9 minutes and 29 seconds, I figured it might be a good tune to drink to late at night in France, which proved to be the case.
We finish with The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat, but it was never my intention. The fact is this compilation began life as a mix-tape – it was compiled before I’d bought a MiniDisc player – and the original cassette had about two thirds of Sister Ray tacked on the end of the first side (I reasoned that if any tune could tolerate truncation it was that one.) The tapes I used were 90 minutes long, whereas my new MiniDiscs granted just 74 minutes of playing time, so Sister Ray had to go. To accommodate Ali Baba, Golden Gaze and White Light/White Heat, I omitted Outer Bongolia (since reinstated – I decided against reintroducing Sister Ray). The singularity of the format also allowed me to re-arrange the running order to create a more balanced playlist. Older compilations were recalibrated to taste, and I soon began experimenting with track listings for next year’s anthology. In its own quiet way, MiniDisc was revolutionary.