New Model Army – ‘Vengeance’

With new friends came new musical influences and an ever-growing political awareness. Thatcher was at her full-tilt worst during the miner’s strike, backed up by her fully armed police ‘boot boys’. Mentally and morally impacted by the likes of Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone, the Glastonbury CND Festival, the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common, Paul Weller and Billy Bragg, my views were well to the left.

Someone must have mentioned New Model Army to me. I think it was Martin Common. Martin also introduced a few of us to something else at the time, and boy did we laugh. Aged 18 my gig history was limited to say the least, but I’d heard enough of, and about New Model Army to go to Bournemouth Town Hall to see them play as part of the Vengeance tour.

I was getting into jazz and reading Roger McGough and Billy Patten. I had never been a punk or anything near. So, the memory of entering that hall and seeing a sea of punks looking twice my age will stay with me forever, heightened massively when NMA let rip. I was literally blown away by the ferocity, the intensity and the anger, and lead singer/guitarist ‘Slade The Leveller’ had me transfixed. I was almost too in awe to take it all in, but I know I had to find out more, so I bought their mini-album Vengeance.

New Model Army reeked of anti-authority and anti-establishment. They were fucking intense. The album is immense from start to finish; I was aware it was louder, angrier, heavier and a huge musical diversion from what I’d been listening to. But I loved it, and played it LOUD. The chunky as fuck, thudding bass demanded it. Lyrically it had plenty to inspire me, and choruses to intoxicate…

“Is it a crime to want something else?
Is it a crime to believe in something different?
Is it a crime to want to make things happen?
To spit in the faces of the cynical fools”

– Smalltown England

“I believe in justice,
I believe in vengeance,
I believe in getting the bastard”

– Vengeance

From the caustic opener Christian Militia and that trademark pounding bass, Vengeance is brilliantly relentless. New Model Army contributed massively to my rapidly expanding musical appreciation and social conscience. If there’s ever an album that encapsulates the feeling of the social disorder at the time, it’s Vengeance.

Everything But The Girl – ‘Eden’

If there’s an album that brings back memories of 1984, my time in Christchurch in a new flat, with new friends, an ever-growing social scene and a Weller-inspired (who else) foray into jazz, it’s the sublime Eden by Everything But The Girl. Three jazz-juiced albums were released around this time which tickled my French fancy: The Style Council had introduced Café Bleu to a mixed reaction amongst Jam fans, and with Working Week’s Working Nights and La Varieté by Weekend, a smoky waft of French accordion café culture was the new thing.

We took this new thing seriously, seeking out a weekly modern jazz club in some remote country pub. We dressed up sharp, we applauded after each solo, and we were very European. I have never smoked cigs, but I was probably tempted just to complete the look. This was summer time, we were hip young cats who took boat trips in blazers along Christchurch quay, and we listened to Eden.

From the opening soothing brass, gentle rhythm and Tracy Thorn’s exquisite vocals…

“If you ever feel the time to drop me a loving line,
maybe you should just think twice,
I don’t wait around on your advice.”

…the tone is set. Each and Every One is a perfect opener; a beautiful, understated jazz groove with Tracy Thorn’s seemingly effortless, perfect tone. Everything on the album feels restrained and authentic, musically and lyrically, exploring the labyrinth of love’s complexities. Ben Watt and Tracy Thorn looked shy and unassuming, which to me made a pleasant change from most popsters from ’84, swaying gently, almost awkwardly with no hint of attitude.

At not long past 30 minutes Eden’s 12 tracks are packed sweetly tight. Another Bridge, Frost and Fire and the gorgeous Bittersweet evoke immensely nostalgic memories of exciting times. I was growing up fast amongst special friends. Gary, Simon, Lisa, Simon… thank you, those were the best of days.

The Style Council – ‘Café Bleu’

So, there were Jam fans from day one who dug the early stuff, the attitude heavy, Pistols-inspired In The City. Then there’s younger, late starters like me who were never part of that scene, who came along in 1980 when the funk was already creeping into the music. When The Jam folded it hit fans hard, and when The Style Council started there were many expecting The Jam part two. The Style Council were anything but, and thousands were gutted. Not me.

Sure, it took some time to adjust expectations, but with Weller I had to be open-minded, trust the man’s instincts, and like much of the best music, just give it time. The first EP release Introducing The Style Council was soaked in the new jazz sound that was clearly just the mod direction Weller was travelling. It had a few of the band’s early singles and set the tone for what was to come. The Jam were nowhere to be seen.

Café Bleu was the debut long-player and stylistically as well as musically it felt fresh, invigorating and totally transitional. Different inspirations were being referenced; the poetry and jazz of the beat generation in particular, which of course led to instant investigation. This was no tipping a toe into a new sound, this was piano and Hammond heavy and just oozed coffee house culture. As much as Mick Talbot was the prominent visual foil to Weller’s cool, musically he shared that role with the rhythm boy wonder, 18 year-old Steve White.

The cool brushed snare on Blue Café and The Paris Match was as musically contrary to Rick Buckler as you could hear, and Talbot’s keys shared prominence with Weller’s guitar. Tracey Thorn and Dee C. Lee’s vocals soothed in a way Weller never could, but more than anything the album radiated an overwhelming air of positivity and hope; an uplifting tone which shone through even the weaker tracks, A Gospel and Strength Of Your Nature, which jolted the album’s flow.

For me, The Style Council peaked early. My Ever Changing Moods was that peak and follow up album Our Favourite Shop was equally as inspiring; again musically eclectic but with a more political tone. But by ’87 I’d lost the faith. My love affair with all things Weller was over… for a few years anyway.

James Brown – ‘Sex Machine’

James Brown. The Godfather of Soul. Perhaps the only mother funkster able to make my hairs stand on end purely on a groove. By 1984 I was frequenting bars, clubs and dives and if there was a dude I’d love to dance to it would have to be James Brown. As a 17 year-old virgin it was the Maison Royale or The Outlook, as an impure, gel-haired, ‘tryin-so-hard-to-be-cool’ 18 year-old it was most likely the Centurion or posers paradise, Micawber’s. Compared to my compadres I was a sensitive, introverted soul, but as the months went by my confidence was growing as fast as my social life.

James Brown is a musical idol; a true genius who from his own childhood spent in extreme poverty became not just the pioneer of funk, but one of the most important musical artists of the 20th century. His early gospel and R&B roots produced some classics, but for me his five year spell as Soul Brother No.1 starting in 1967, producing a stream of stone cold masterpieces, is his undoubted peak. I had devoured Motown and soul, and now on the back of the legendary Superbad vinyl on K-Tel, funk was my new obsession and with it came my first JB purchase, the super cool part-live double LP Sex Machine.

From ’67-‘72 he recorded Soul Power, Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, Super Bad, Cold Sweat, There Was A Time, Make It Funky, Get On The Good Foot, Hot Pants, Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose, Say It Loud – I’m Black & I’m Proud, Ain’t It Funky Now, Funky Drummer… everyone a absolute groove, thanks in no small way to Clyde Stubblefield and John ‘Jabo’ Starks, the most sampled drummers ever. An absolute star performer, JB influenced the likes of Michael Jackson and Prince with his stage persona and routine, as well as the intensity and length of his shows.

In 1984 I couldn’t get enough James Brown. For the previous few years the Top 40 had been littered with brit-funk; the likes of Level 42, Shalamar, Linx and Beggar & Co were all producing decent stuff, but my obsession with the late ‘60s and early ‘70s quickly lead me to Earth Wind & Fire, Sly & The Family Stone, Brass Construction, Roy Ayers and the immense Gil Scott-Heron, whose The Bottle is the ultimate groove.

In 1984, and for many years after, I had no idea James Brown was capable of horrific crimes like domestic abuse and assault. I say this almost as a disclaimer. He’d fine or sack anyone who missed a beat or disobeyed his orders regarding drink and drug use. His own drug addiction would soon become horrific. On the flip, he actively supported civil rights organisations and advocated the importance of education for disadvantaged kids for who he was seen as a role model. For me, in ‘84 JB was THE MAN and as a performer his legend lives on.