Dec282017| December 28, 2017
A soul-filled, far out seventies jazz romp.
Stanley Cowell’s Regeneration is being rereleased this January, via Pure Pleasure.
The LP was originally released on Strata-East, a label Cowell co-founded with Charles Tolliver.
Other notable records from Strata-East’s catalogue include Gil Scott Heron’s Winter in America and Pharoah Sanders’ Izipho Zam.
Regeneration is Cowell’s seventh studio album as leader/pianist, and features Bill Lee on bass with Jimmy Heath on sax; it has been remastered by Ray Staff at Air Mastering, London for its reissue.
Pre-order a copy of the LP here ahead of its January release, listen to ‘Trying To Find A Way’ and check out the track list below.
1. Trying To Find A Way
2. The Gembhre
3. Shimmy Shewabble
4. Parlour Blues
1. Thank You My People
2. Travelin’ Man
Mar112016| March 11, 2016
Dave Okumu revisits the music of Gil Scott-Heron, the radical poet with an ear for a groove and a heart for humanity.
Speaking about his first meaningful experience of Gil Scott-Heron’s legendary album Pieces of a Man, Okumu remembers how the record led him to explore the music of Bernard Purdie, the self-proclaimed “world’s most recorded drummer”, who despite his prolificacy remains far from a household name. For Okumu every player on every record has a story, a personal journey that has led them to contribute to a piece of work that might well be remembered as someone else’s opus.
It’s a sentiment that could resonate with Okumu’s own influence. A guitarist, singer, founding member of The Invisible and, perhaps most importantly, a record producer who has become a formative voice in contemporary music while, in part at least, ceding the limelight to the artists whose sound he has helped define.
More sensitive than most to the creative scaffolding that shapes the music, Okumu’s relationship with Gil Scott-Heron is as much an intuitive as an intellectual one. Although outspoken as a lyricist, it was Gil’s floor-filling grooves that first caught his ear in clubs like Bar Rhumba in the mid-’90s, where ‘The Bottle’ was a Sunday afternoon anthem.
We met up with Dave Okumu to ruminate on the nature of inspiration and influence, the visceral origins of rhythm and whether or not Kendrick Lamar would be here without Gil Scott-Heron.
Interview: Anton Spice / Photography: Michael Wilkin
What was your first encounter with Gil Scott-Heron’s music?
I can’t pinpoint exactly when, and I think it’s because I heard it in clubs as a teenager in London in the ’90s. I think he was there in the mix of all this soul and funk and hip hop that I would go and dance to. I think that’s where I first started to hear stuff like ‘The Bottle’. The moment where where I feel like I really formed a personal connection was seeing him perform live. I was just really struck by this wiry figure with so much presence and wit and passion.
It’s interesting you say you first heard the music in clubs. Despite being such a renowned poet and lyricist, he also wrote music you can dance to.
For me that stuff relates to what I see as a connection to a kind of African musical tradition and the importance of rhythm. I’m one of the proponents of the idea that rhythm is the foundation of everything, we all have an innate sense of rhythm that is integral to how we walk and how we breathe and how we speak, and I think that is something that is so present in African traditions. I see him as existing somewhere along the line of oral tradition and rhythmic tradition and that connects to the music that he was obviously interested in; jazz, which was a form of dance music in some ways, and blues and funk and soul.
I feel that rhythm is almost where my sense of the conviction in the music starts from. When I feel connected to the rhythm it’s really easy to go on the journey with the rest of it. When I try and think back about hearing his music in the first instance I wonder if I was really that conscious of the lyrics. I feel like that’s a relationship that’s grown over time. I think I probably connected first with the feel of the music and then found the lyrics.
He’s often associated with radical poets like Watts Prophets and Last Poets who were perhaps more explicit and outspoken than Gil. There is also a sense that their music was more a vehicle for the poem, whereas with Gil both were given equal prominence.
It is really interesting, sometimes that juxtaposition of words with a musical backdrop that’s not that related can be very effective, but actually for me, I would always connect with something more integrated or where it feels like the music is part of the story-telling going on.
So you saw him live and then headed out to buy his records. Where did you land first?
The songs that I knew were ‘Revolution [Will Not Be Televised]’ and ‘The Bottle’ – the hits basically! I remember going to Soul Jazz and seeing that there were all these different versions and compilations and I guess the first record that I got to know was Pieces Of A Man, that was the first one where I had the full album experience.
It’s sometimes hard to put your finger on how influential a certain artists is on what you do, but what were the aspects of what you discovered in Gil’s work which spoke to you?
It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is. I always come back to this thing, that slightly cheesily comes from that Charlie Kauffman film Adaptation, where Nicolas Cage plays twins and one of them is a genius writer with writer’s block and the other one is an aspiring screen-writer and he’s enrolled in a shit course, and there’s a key scene where the less successful and less tortured of the two is saying to the other that basically that you are what you love, that’s the point. And I was always so moved by that because I spend a lot of time thinking about a connection to inspiration because I see that as my job, or that my responsibility is to basically remain inspired.
So when I think about people who’ve inspired me, and even if I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, I suppose I still feel a sense of ownership by virtue of the fact that I’ve loved something and I’m aware that that’s going to have an impact which is going to somehow pass through me in a way.
When I think about it retrospectively I guess there was something very liberating about seeing these languages coalesce in Gil’s music. That fact of how raw it was through the words and the delivery and the imperfection of the way he sang. And how that was combined with this incredible musical craft as well. It was so soulful and by that I mean, it didn’t alienate, and the music didn’t feel intellectualised. It had a directness. I love the fact that I could tell these musicians were serious jazz musicians with real class but there was something rock and roll and punk about it as well. And I always respond to music like that: music that feels complex in its DNA but is so complete and self-accepting and clear.
He was very adept at combining political, satirical, worldly themes and delivering them with great personality.
There’s a really great balance there because there is a great intensity to a lot of his work. I remember the first time I heard this one [Small Talk at 125th & Lennox], I found it pretty intense. Maybe it’s the stripped back nature of it and it how moves quite swiftly from one subject to another and I don’t think I’d ever really heard a record like that before. I remember feeling I’d been punched in the gut a little bit, but then I came back to it later and engaged with it on different levels and found some of the humour in it more.
I do feel he really understood that thing that all great pop artists understand, the idea that the universal can come through the personal. I think all artists and writers have these issues of whether they’re focussing on the personal and whether that’s self-indulgent but he obviously so clearly understood the idea that we’re all connected. And one of the things that really strikes me about him is how empathetic he is. There’s such a profound empathy there and in expressing that there’s something courageous about it too.
The variety of artists assembled for the show at Convergence [in 2016] is a testament to how universal his appeal has been. What form will the show take?
The goal is to create something with depth and variety and it feels like to me the best way to demonstrate the extent of his connection to so many different things and people is to encourage as much individual expression as possible. And part of the challenge is you don’t want it to sound like a talent show and you don’t want it to feel like a trite homage. I think the only way you can give it depth is to make it personal. And what was exiting to me as a creative challenge was trying to go some way to showing how relevant that work is today and hopefully introducing that music to a new audience through these artists.
He’s often cited as the “godfather of hip hop”, but he probably didn’t think about it like that did he?
It is a broad thing to slap on him with “proto-rap” and all that stuff, but I think it is a legitimate statement to an extent. I definitely see him as part of the DNA of a strain of hip hop that I love and it’s hard to imagine certain artists having come into existence without his work. I remember around that before I discovered his music I was really into hip hop, so it’s that thing that often happens where you make connections in reverse.
And also the thing I’ve been thinking about more recently is in relation to Kendrick Lamar’s record [To Pimp A Butterfly]. I’d love to know whether he listened to Gil Scott-Heron records. He may not have done but that to me doesn’t negate the fact that his music might have had an influence on that record, in an indirect way or not. In the way that music is put together and the musical DNA of it but also this increasing sense of Kendrick having mission in what he’s saying, doing that through the personal and shedding light on what he sees going on in the world today.
Did you have to reacquaint yourself with his music for this project? Or are do you know the catalogue inside-out?
The idea really ignited my imagination and it felt like that perfect balance between something that I had a personal connection to and something that would also take me out of my comfort zone. I feel enough of a connection for this to be a legitimate journey to go on. And then I was like ‘Oh my God, how are we going to choose?’ There’s so much stuff here. And then you start thinking about who’s going to be brave enough to take this on, because I think it takes real bravery to stand up as an artist and interpret an icon’s music.
The first thing I had to do was to create some space to disconnect and not worry about anything and immerse myself in his music. Obscurely I spent some time with my girlfriend in an Italian hunting lodge and cut myself off, locked away in a Gil Scott-Heron Italian cave, just listening and listening and watching things and reading and researching and trying to allow that to take me on a journey and see where things would lead.
I very quickly gave up the idea of becoming acquainted with the entire catalogue and I’m quite glad the show is called ‘Pieces of a Man’! You can only hope to shed light on certain areas and hopefully that can become part of a conversation that continues beyond this gig.
You’ve got Free Will with you here too. What do you like about that record?
This is another one that intrigued me early on, especially in the way it was laid out. The emphasis on the spoken word stuff and then the musical backdrop comes in on the other half of the record. It’s an effective way of presenting the art.
Is it possible to put your finger on favourites from the catalogue?
Like a lot of people I’m really bad with favourites because they change all the time. Through this process I’m discovering new favourites and one that I didn’t actually know was called ‘Angola Louisiana’ and it’s absolutely amazing. It’s one of Sam Shepherd’s favourites. It’s like this diamond in the rough that just poked its head out. It just feels so modern, the way the music is framed, I see that connection with hip hop as well with ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ being just this heavy beat and bass line and the words. It’s that thing which everyone’s still chasing now as a production value.
Apr152014| April 15, 2014
Holding things together in Manchester since 1978, Piccadilly Records has rightly garnered a reputation as one of the country’s most vibrant and important record stores. Kicking off our countdown to Record Store Day, manager Philippa Jarman enlists the help of Patrick Ryder to rundown the shop’s top 5 recommended special releases from the 600+ on the list. Look out for the next instalment of our Record Store Day rundown tomorrow.
Long time shop favourites, aquatic spiritualists and new age explorers Seahawks celebrate RSD14 with a special edition of their latest LP Paradise Freaks. Born out of late nights and early mornings under the influence of a lysergic cocktail of Iasos, Woo and our very own psychedelic shaman Matt Ward, Paradise Freaks explores the land beyond the crystal ocean, marrying horizontal drift with organic chug. As ever, the ‘hawks deliver the complete package, chakra aligning sound and brain tingling vision on this weighty pressing.
Down In California (Albion / Psychemagik Edits)
Albion’s extension of The Kingcats’ west coast groover was one of the highlights of Psychemagik’s flawless Magik Cyrkles compilation, and has since become my girlfriend’s favourite song, which is lofty praise indeed. It seems that the head honchos over at Leng are equally enamoured, commissioning an unreleased edit by none other than Psychemagik themselves to share this double A-side. The duo trade the breezy shimmer of Albion’s rework for a purpose built dancefloor excursion with a weighty kick and a long arrangement.
Last year we were blown away by the charm, passion and funk of Big Willie’s style, voting the mystery man top of the tree in our Reissue/Collection of the Year category. Needless to say we were chuffed to see Luaka Bop follow up with this double pack of covers and remixes from a diverse selection of musical talents. Highlights include Hot Chip’s tropical dub version of “Atomic Bomb”, JD Twitch’s dark disco interpretation of “Why Go To War?” and the Daphne classic “Ye Ye” with that electrifying Onyeabor sample running through it. It looks just as good as it sounds with Kevin Harris’ technicolor sleeve and is released in conjunction with Moog, which is almost too much for the nerd in me.
‘Me, I Disconnect From You’
It’s hard to remember in these days of extended deluxe double packs that vinyl LPs used to have five or six tracks squished onto each side of a single disc. Recorded at the same sessions as her classic 1981 album “Nightclubbing”, Island Records just couldn’t fit this made-for-Ms Jones disco-not-disco cover version of Tubeway Army’s alienated synth classic “Me, I Disconnect From You” onto the same piece of wax as “Pull Up To The Bumper”, “Use Me” et al. Not only that, but the track has remained totally unreleased, lost in the Island archives – until now. Cue much salivation from the Balearic / disco massive about this RSD 12″ issue.
XL Recordings boss Richard Russell’s original idea for Scott-Heron’s post-rehab album I’m New Here was going to be re-recordings of Gil’s old classics in a sparse, stripped down, acoustic style. As the soul-jazz legend worked his way through a back catalogue that includes such gems as “Did You Hear What They Said”, “Pieces Of A Man” and “Blue Collar”, the session morphed into brand new tracks, which were then released on long player to much acclaim (Piccadilly’s Album of the Year 2010). Finally those first heart-rending remakes get top billing on this one-off RSD album issue, a fitting tribute to an amazing singer-songwriter / musician.
Illustration: Ben Lamb for Piccadilly Records. Click here fore more info.
Apr142014| April 14, 2014
Our weekly vinyl release list takes a back seat today as we preview the 10 releases worth getting up for on Record Store Day this Saturday.
There’s a school of thought that Record Store Day punishes record collectors who, hardly the most notorious morning people, are forced out of bed at ungodly hours to queue for a chance to grab the day’s limited releases in a Supermarket Sweep-style chaos that’s about as alien to the experience of buying records as your can get.
There’s another however that appeals to every collector’s competitive streak, where the most committed will makes a virtue of necessity and head out, colour-coded release list in hand to make the shrewdest, most efficient use of time and energy and bag some truly fantastic music, available for one day only from shops that have never had it so good.
Which ever you belong to, the fact remains that with over 600 releases planned this year there’s an awful lot of wheat to be de-chaffed before the queuing can begin. With many releases destined to clog up counters for months to come, we’ve done a bit of the prep for you and identified the ten most interesting records you should make a bee-line for when the doors open on Saturday morning.
Then, every day for the rest of this week, our favourite stores will be previewing Record Store Day with their own top 5’s. Highlighters at the ready…
‘Me! I Disconnect From You’
‘Iconic’ gets chucked about with the same giddy abandon as ‘epic’ and ‘literally’ these days, but it’s safe to say we’re on solid ground when it comes to Beverly Grace Jones. The wickedly talented, many faceted, ice cool diva has always loved a cover, and many of her finest moments have been reinterpretations of other people’s work. This previously unreleased track, taken from the Nightclubbing sessions sees Grace bringing her inimitable sass and swagger to a Tubeway Army original. Her fierce vocal rides a buoyant dubwise groove courtesy of Sly, Robbie and the rest of the Compass Point All Stars, and transforms Gary Numan’s icy synth pop into a weird and wonderful reggae disco bubbler. Long awaited and hotly debated by ardent fans, the only remaining question is why something this perfect never saw the light of day.
Make It Last Forever
It’s 1978 and you’ve trekked halfway across New York to go to a members only club on King St with some friends you just met that night. You get past the desk trying to act like you’re supposed to be there, and the faint sounds of a rolling bassline rumble through the walls. As you slip through the heavy curtain into the club room, something changes inside you forever and you’re lost to the dance. The groove is infectious, taking you to heaven on a bed of swirling strings, funky guitars and those sublime soulful vocals. You ask a dancer what’s happening, “Larry’s playing Donna McGhee, go with it baby.” For RSD14, a ‘Larry list’ classic, produced by Greg Carmichael and Patrick Adams, rare as hen’s teeth on original pressing, is given a proper reissue, remastered from the tapes and cut across four sides for optimum sound. You have to own this record.
Bit of an obvious choice here, but definitely worth highlighting. Gil Scott-Heron’s posthumous Nothing New promises stripped back recordings from across his catalogue, committed to tape during the sessions for his final LP on XL I’m New Here in 2008. Lesser known ballads like ‘Your Daddy Loves You’ off Winter In America and the stunning ‘The Other Side’, from his neglected but utterly captivating 90’s LP Spirits stand out. It’s a crying shame this one’s reserved for the 3,000 earliest birds.
The William Onyeabor caravanserai rolls on. This time Luaka have pulled in support from a host of well wishers, releasing remixes of the godfather of Nigerian synth funk you didn’t know you had. Optimo, Hot Chip and Scientist offer high profile help, while Daphni’s jutting ‘Ye Ye’ gets another run out following its original release on Four Tet’s Text in 2011. Glorious chaos is the name of the game here on a project that has spiraled beyond belief. Thankfully Damon Albarn’s melodica is nowhere to be seen.
Oneohtrix Point Never
Far from being cobbled together to meet the festivities, this is a beautifully packaged and cohesive EP from Daniel Lopatin, with three more of his electronic odysseys coaxed from his studio through some wise commissioning from different institutions and projects over the past couple of years. From an inspired and euphoric re-imagining of Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski’s ‘Preludes’, to a gorgeous deconstruction of doo-wop classic ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, his purple patch of great releases continues and this one shouldn’t be missed come Saturday.
The Air is On Fire
David Lynch’s increased musical output of recent years grows again with this very welcome and first time on vinyl reissue of The Air Is On Fire, which was originally created by Lynch and his sound engineer Dean Hurley for the identically named 2007 Parisian exhibition of Lynch’s work in photography, drawing, sound and other wonders of his wholly unique imagination. The ambience here is far from the type of unnecessary indulgence such an auteur might be afforded and stands its ground as a fine work of immersive sound design and obfuscated field recording, from the same abstract industrial realm as the Eraserhead soundtrack
The Best of Sub Pop 2009-2013 Live at the BBC
At the head of Sub Pop’s assault on Record Store Day 2014 comes this astounding four track killer from Pennsylvania’s finest Pissed Jeans. Packing exclusive live versions of tracks from their recent ‘Honeys’ and ‘King Of Jeans’ albums it shows how good this band really are. Skewed punk noise rock galore that shakes in all the right places. Great title too.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
‘She’s On It / Jack The Ripper
The legendary Jon Spencer and his Blues Explosion hit the special day hard with this number one live favourite. Wrapped in their own take on the Def Jam sleeve you get their thunderous retake of the Beastie Boys ‘She’s On It’ fully amped, rolling at full power and mashed into the full swamped fuzz buzz of Link Wray’s ‘Jack the Ripper’. Howl’s galore this is the JSBX at full throttle.
The Muppet Movie OST
(Walt Disney Records)
I once spoke to Jerry Greenberg, the young exec who signed the Muppets to Atlantic in the 70s, and he anecdoted the moment he told the label’s heads that he had signed a hot new record. What’s it like, asked legendary A&R and producer Jerry Wexler. Well, it was mostly score, but there was one track that Greenberg thought was bound to be a hit: Rainbow Connection, a beautiful bit of whimsy penned by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher. Ahmet Ertegun, the grand Turkish emigre founder of Atlantic, asked him who they had singing it. Well, Greenberg replied, they’ve got this frog. Named Kermit.
Producer of the hyperactive 1983 international club hit ‘Problemes D’Amour’, Alexander Robotnick – née Maurizio Dami – was a pivot of Italy’s counter-intuitive electronic Disco scene. This special edition of Dami’s earlier and more obscure work, out on Medical Records, is going after the gong for RSD’s sleaziest synth release. It gathers rare tracks and includes a few vinyl premieres, too. The beat is tough and tracky, overlaid with majestic bleeping synths, fake French vibes and eerily airy pads that share more with the strung-out European new wave and minimal synth guys than they do with Gloria Gaynor or Chic. Perfect for channeling that hardcore-biker-club-in-1980s-Detroit feeling.
Mar212014| March 21, 2014
Influences is a new feature series in which we ask a contemporary recording artist to discuss a particularly influential or inspirational figure from the world of music. Trinidad-born spoken word vocalist Anthony Joseph talks up the inimitable Gil Scott-Heron.
It’s only as we descend from Anthony Joseph’s apartment on the top floor of an impressive trust housing project in South London that the singer reveals he was once asked to stand in for Gil Scott-Heron at a music festival, after Gil, in the final months of his life, had failed to show. It would have been quite an act to follow, but having mentioned earlier the regularity with which reviewers find parallels between their work, Joseph may be one of a small number of artists around who could have possibly filled in. “So few people that have successfully managed to merge music and the spoken word” muses Joseph, “there are very few to compare us too”.
Born in Trinidad and schooled on a combination of his grandfather’s calypso records and the reggae 7″s fresh off the boat from Jamaica, Joseph’s discovery of the work of Gil Scott-Heron coincided with his move to London at the end of the 80’s, a bombastic culture shock which opened the young poet’s eyes to a world of music and literature only hinted at in the American magazines he’d pick up back home.
Since then he has published five collections of poetry and recorded five albums, most recently with the legendary Meshell Ndegeocello helming the production. Time, released on the fantastic Parisian label Heavenly Sweetness this spring, is perhaps Joseph’s most complete and realised statement to date, a record that seamlessly combines poetic lyricism with melody in a way that can’t help but invite comparison to Scott-Heron’s work. There’s an inevitability about the regularity with which we return to talk about Time.
Up in his warm living room overlooking a drab February morning in South London, Joseph speaks evocatively, as only a poet can, about his life and career as influenced by the most popular and enduring spoken word vocalist and musician of his generation, pulling out classic LPs like Free Will, Winter In America and Pieces Of A Man from the wall of records that dominates the room. It’s a convivial and stimulating environment, a tutorial of sorts with a musician who considers his art with an astuteness that betrays his vocation as a university lecturer. Every so often he rises to flip the record which plays on an old turntable opposite, or acknowledge the black cat, which purrs at his feet.
Where did you first come across Gil Scott-Heron?
I grew up in Trinidad and his name would come up from time to time, sometimes in magazines I’d get from the US like Rolling Stone or whatever. I didn’t really know his music in Trinidad, but then when I came to England and going into HMV for the first time and being bombarded with all this music that I’d heard about but never heard, he was one of them. I got this double cassette thing, which was like an anthology and that was the first time I really got into it and that was 1989.
In terms of going out and buying records in general, were you already into that in Trinidad?
Yeah I was, I started buying records when I was 12 or 13. It was mainly reggae that I was buying at that time. We used to get 7” fresh pressings from Jamaica that would come across so I used to buy a lot of that. I used to buy a lot of soul records, and also where I was growing up with my grandparents, for some reason they had a lot of records and I was just really fascinated by the smell of them, the physical thing about records.
Many people talk about their first steps in music as directed by what their parents or grandparents had at home.
We had a lot of calypso records, a lot of Mighty Sparrow records and stuff like that, which my grandfather would play once a year at Christmas time. He’d bring the records out and we’d listen to them.
That does sound nice. Back in the UK then, you went into HMV and were confronted with all this music and you pick out Gil Scott-Heron…
Yeah, because I’d heard the name and I’d read about him. Because I was a poet, I was writing as well and here’s this guy who was doing poetry and music, so I thought let me get into it and I did straight away. It was a very immediate connection.
Was that connection with the lyrics and the content or more with the melodies of the songs themselves?
For me it was the voice. It was his voice that captured me. There was a humanity and a vulnerability in the voice and at that time, the stuff I was listening to was more the songs than the poems. There were a few of the poems on that compilation, things like ‘Whitey on the Moon’ and ‘Brother’, but they were really short, so for me the heart of it was the songs. And then there were ones which combined the songs and the poetry like ‘The Revolution Will Not be Televised’. It was cool, but the voice was the thing for me. And I got pretty deep into that first compilation. I analysed it for a long time, to try and figure out what he was doing.
From a musical point of view?
Yeah and from a lyrical point of view. And at that time in the early 90’s, I was writing but I was more focused on making music myself, and the music I was making was really different to what I’m doing now, it was rock music essentially. I had a black rock band. This was the time of Living Colour and Bad Brains, so kind of heavy stuff.
Where lyrics might take a back seat?
Yeah maybe, but for me, because I was a poet, the main thing about the music was the lyrics, so the lyrics were always a really important part of what we were doing. It was a combination of really hard aggressive music (not always, but sometimes) and really sort of refined, crafted poetry.
In terms of that balance between writing a song or a melody and writing a poem… In pop music especially, often the lyrics feel secondary to a powerful hook – they’re there almost just to facilitate the more visceral aspects of the song. With Gil, and with your own work, there has to be a fine distinction, since you don’t just want the song to be a vehicle for the poem. How do you begin to balance the two? Do you start with the poem first?
Yeah, the poem comes first. The poem dictates what the music does. I think that’s what happened with the new album, the poetry dictated to Meshell [Ndegeocello] what mood and what feel and what music she was going to put to the words, which I think is the best way to work.
And I suppose Gil had Brian Jackson to take care of a lot of the musical side of things…
Yeah, but Gil was also a piano player so I think a lot of musicality came from that. I was just reading about that, he was saying that’s where it came from, the fact that he could play the piano meant that he could construct melodies around his poems.
Gil had a very political strain to his music. Raising issue with the injustices and inequalities of his day was something that he found very important. Was this content something that spoke to you too?
Absolutely, of course, but I thought it was very much of the time. If you listen to the Last Poets and even Watts Prophets they seem to talk about things in a more universal way. You know the stuff they were talking about racism and racial injustice and stuff like that. But Gil, I found that he made it personal. He made the politics personal and he used himself and his own experience as the fulcrum around which all these things revolved. You listen to ‘The Bottle’ or ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’, they’re very political but also very personal. I think that was his gift.
There is also something very universal about his personal experience that transcends all this. Politically and emotionally…
Absolutely. Yeah I think all the great stuff from that period should be still relevant. I think that’s what all art tries to do, to remain relevant. But I think there’s a quality and a need to ground things in a particular time and I think Gil did that particular well with ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’. That’s very much of its time and it was important to have that at the time, and now, maybe it’s not so relevant and maybe a lot of the references are not there, but the sentiment is still valid.
Listening to Time, I also feel like your themes are very personal, very family and community orientated. Are these references based on your own experience?
Yeah, absolutely. Something like ‘Hustle To Live’, where I talk about the plight of the immigrant who comes to London and works really hard and saves money to go back home. I see guys like that on the street, I’m sure you do too, selling phone cards. When you speak to them you find out that they don’t want to stay here, they want to work and earn a lot of money and then go. The guy on the corner of the street in the shop that does photos, he’s the guy when I’m talking when I say “On the south side of the city, he’s on the grind, working from nine to nine, making prints in the picture shop”.
On the other albums I was really tied up in a personal journey I think, trying to understand how I related to the world and how memory worked and how language worked. It was very cryptic a lot of it, but I think with this album there was an attempt to start looking out to the community.
Actually, Frantz Fanon has got an essay in Wretched of the Earth where he talks about the stages that a native artist goes through – a colonized person – as an artist. I’m not quite a colonized person any more but it still applies to me. He says, when you begin to work, you try to show how great a craftsman you are, you try and show the master that you have mastered his tools, that “I can write poetry just as good as you, and I can even do it better”. And the second stage, you try to go back to your past and remember who you were and you write about your childhood and your family, and in the third stage you rejoin the revolution and you’re present with the people, fighting against something. And I think I’m on the edge of that phase going from the remembrance of the past into a more politically aware and politically active way of looking at the world and just noticing the shit that’s going on.
Of course, with so much going on out there it is the personal stuff which ultimately really connects with people.
Yeah of course, the personal is the universal. I teach and this is what I tell my students all the time. The things that you want to hide, the things you think are too personal, that’s the stuff that’s going to make great poetry. You can’t get too personal in art. The irony is that when you try and appeal to the masses, you contrive shit, you come up with stuff with no substance, because you’re writing what you think people want to hear. Start with yourself. As Gil says, Home is Where The Hatred Is.
Do you want to talk us through one of your favourite Gil Scott-Heron records and tell us why…
I think this is probably my favourite, Winter In America. This is for me, one of the greatest ones he’s done, because this has ‘The Bottle’ of course, but also some really beautiful ballads, ‘Rivers of my Fathers’, ‘A Very Precious Time’, that whole first side I just like one gentle suite. ‘Peace Go With You Brother’, ‘Your Daddy Loves You’ which I think is one of the sweetest thing that he did. I love the poetry, but I love the ballads maybe slightly more.
With that in mind, Gil is often credited in shorthand by journalists for his influence on hip hop, but that wasn’t really a concern of his was it?
Journalists have column inches to fill, so they have to use shorthand, but Gil himself tried to distance himself from that whole Godfather of Rap thing, because as he said, there were people before him. There was Amiri Baraka, The Last Poets, Oscar Brown Jr. and a whole range of artists before that were doing spoken word, back to the 50’s.
I think when he came around, it was about timing. He came at a particular time when James Brown was also doing this sort of proto rap thing, there was the Last Poets and this feeling of protest and the voice being heard, so he got caught up in that. His work is very different from the Last Poets and the militant black rhetoric of the time, because his work, as we said, is very personal, very tender and vulnerable at times.
I think it’s very important to have that balance. I think that’s why Gil was so successful and why we love him so much and why we still talk about him, because he showed us his pain. I think that balance is important and I think that’s what I take from him a lot. That’s what I take, the ability to be open.
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Registered in England and Wales under no. 04184222.