- Zambezi – The Fun Company
- Rocks Off – Rolling Stones
- Transamazonica – Antonio Adolfo & A Brazuca
- Golden Gaze – Ian Brown
- Night Over Manaus – Boozoo Bajou
- Ponteio – Quarteto Novo
- Ali Baba – John Holt
- Untouchable Sound – Make Up
- D.C.B.A.-25 – Jefferson Airplane
- Sagittarius Black – Timothy McNealy
- 90% of Me is You – Gwen McCrae
- Blips, Drips and Strips – Stereolab
- Ain’t it Funky Now – Grant Green
- Queen St. Gang – Arzachel
- Soul Power – Lil Ray & The Fantastic Four
- Hercules – Aaron Neville
- Holy Are You – The Electric Prunes
- Loving Cup – Rolling Stones
- Every Baby Cries the Same – Make Up
- Outer Bongolia – Stereolab
- White Light/White Heat – 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 that 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 shots’ at the end of 12 hour shifts – bottles of Budweiser we’d intermittently top up with scotch whenever 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 on 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 me 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. An old lady worked behind the bar, a friendly face who remembered what you drank. It made a nice change from the more regular haunts – Brentford (White Horse, The Griffin), Isleworth (Town Wharf, London Apprentice), Hounslow (Shannons, The Rifleman) – and might sometimes be followed with a night out at 'Blow Up' at The Wag or Wardour street.
It was a good time to be buying vinyl. Independent records labels were compiling all sorts of obscura. Intoxica on Portobello Road was my record shop of choice, and nearly every visit would invite a purchase: Keb Darge’s Legendary Deep Funk; Blue Note compilations like Blue Brazil and Blue Break Beats; Broasted or Fried and Version Excursion on Harmless Records; Battle for the Planet of the Breaks courtesy of Escape the Breaks Records; All Back to Mine on Regal.
Around the same time I made it my mission to finally 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 one of the four albums that comprised the canon. I came away with Exile on Main Street, aware of its reputation but oblivious to its content. I was taken by surprise, very pleasantly so compared to other Stones’ works it seemed almost lo-fi. I could not comprehend how Rocks Off – the opening track – wasn’t regarded in the same vein as (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction or Get Off of My Cloud, or Loving Cup not held in the same esteem as Wild Horses or Honky Tonk Women. I bought into it totally – the production, the variety of musical styles, 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.
Earl Gateshead at The Dive Bar
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’, which gave rise to the title of my compilation, although I doubt this is the correct pronunciation. We referred to the nearby town of Ancenis as ‘Ant 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, lolling about in the sun, engaging in pitched water battles, drinking bottled beer and plastic flagons of red wine.
Zambezi by The Fun Company, Soul Power by Lil Ray & The Fantastic Four and Sagittarius Black by Timothy McNealy are all taken from Keb Darge’s Legendary Deep Funk, an excellent compendium of soulful funk and rare groove. Transamazonica is a quirky organ-driven bossa nova number featuring the sounds of macaws and monkeys. It's lifted from Blue Brazil Vol. 2, by far the best of a series of three.
Ian Brown’s early solo work is hard to pin down, and surprisingly good, but works well as bridge across to Boozoo Bajou’s downtempo Night Over Manaus, which is essentially chill-out music released before the term became ubiquitous. Quarteto Novo offer jazzier Latin vibes. Ali Baba has become something of a reggae classic over the years but, rightly or wrongly, I thought it rather obscure back in 2000 if only because of the difficulty I had finding a copy on vinyl (Hottest Hits Volume 3 also hosts the excellent John Holt tune Stealing Stealing and Joya Landis’s equally impressive Moonlight Lover).
Although they presented a more ‘garage-rock’ sort of sound, I could sense in Make Up 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. Although the Make Up were current (only just: the band dissolved the same year, with band members Ian Svenonius and Michelle Mae moving on to form Weird War) I still felt they were mining something distinctively retrospective and assuredly not in keeping with current trends. Because of this – and despite the abrupt change in tempo – following up Untouchable Sound with Jefferson Airplane’s D.C.B.A.-25 works better than one might expect.
Sagittarius Black and then 90% of Me is You, they complement each other perfectly: slinky, early-seventies soul of the sort Earl Gateshead played down at the Dive Bar. Introducing Stereolab at this juncture is a risk, but the repetitious, rhythmic nature of their music sets us up nicely for the jazz-funk groove of Grant Green’s cover of James Brown’s Ain’t it Funky Now.
Queens St. Gang by Arzachel is a rather odd number. How to describe it? Psychedelic progressive rock might do. I resist diving straight into their epic Holy are You – it would have been too much – and instead exploit the bluesy organ and flute riff of Soul Power and the deep soul of Aaron Neville to bridge across to the Prunes’ psychedelic opus. In my world, Hercules by Aaron Neville dated back to 1993 (earlier in fact, because it’s all over the Southern Comfort remix of the Young MC rap tune I Come Off, which was a favourite back in 1990). Because it did not feature on any compilations of mine back then, its inclusion was permitted now. Like John Holt’s Ali Baba, it’s a song that gets around in way it never used to – retro-classics that over time have been commodified to play in bars to a clientele that know nothing of them.
The Electric Prunes are probably more well known for the psychedelic garage rock of tunes like 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, it 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 yet the same man that brings you roses. This is the correct emphasis, but many lyricists would have missed it – they would’ve used ‘who’ for both lines. 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 read or spoken.
More Make Up, then the endlessly repetitive groove of Stereolab’s Outer Bongolia. We finish with the Velvet Underground White Light/White Heat, but it was never my intention. The fact is this compilation began life as a tape: it was compiled prior to me buying a MiniDisc player. The original cassette had the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray tacked on the end of the first side. I figured that if any of these tunes could tolerate truncation it was that one. Moreover, the tapes I used were 90 minutes long, whereas the MiniDiscs I bought were between 74 and 80. For this reason, as well as replacing Sister Ray with White Light/White Heat, Transamazonica and Outer Bongolia were excised from the MiniDisc version on account of them being the next longest tracks on the compilation. What’s more, Ian Brown’s Golden Gaze didn’t feature at all because I was unable to get hold of a copy in time to include it. We’d listened a lot to the album Golden Greats at the gite in France, so when it came to recompiling the playlist on my laptop I restored/inserted any tunes that I perceived to be intrinsically connected to the memories I have of that year.
Trip to Cornwall.