The last few months of my joyful stay in Penzance met with a discovery of some classic new grits and grooves. I discovered 100% Dynamite, an absolute gem of a compilation form London-based Soul Jazz Records. These tracks were the real deal, the absolute cream of original Jamaican funky soul, ska and rocksteady by the likes of The Maytals, The Upsetters and the keyboard kid genius, Jackie Mittoo. Listening to, and being slightly blown away by the quality of the 14 tracks, it felt like my passion for funk and soul was being reignited, and better still it opened up a whole new world of Jamaican music.
The album featured ska and rocksteady versions of soul tracks I already loved. Aretha Franklin’s Rocksteady was given the full on ska treatment by The Marvells whilst Marlena Shaw’s Woman of the Ghetto was given a more gentle reggae tingle by Phyllis Dillon. But, what grabbed my groove the most was Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s house band (and soon to be The Wailers) The Upsetters’ stonking ska blast of James Brown’s Popcorn. Hell yeah, the drums and bass, man… just one killer break.
The Skatalites were well known to me, but not keyboard king Jackie Mittoo whose Stereo Freeze is just another funked up ska stomp. Devouring 100% Dynamite got me searching for more, and it didn’t take long for more Soul Jazz comps to get me. A year or so down the line they released New Orleans Funk and Saturday Night Fish Fry and my obsession with funk and soul kicked in again, invigorated by the brilliance of Eddie Bo, The Gaturs and Roger and The Gypsies immense Pass The Hatchet.
For any fans of funk, soul or ska, if you’ve not found it already, do yourselves a huge favour and dive deep into the Soul Jazz Records back catalogue. Having merged with Studio One, many of the comps feature the label’s legendary history. 100% Dynamite is aptly named. Get on it, and the four blasts of Dynamite that followed.
Having happily settled into my snug cottage fifty metres from the beach at Marazion overlooking St. Michael’s Mount, what I really needed was an album to complement the blissful, sleepy, laid-back mood my comfortable homestead gave me. Dark winter evenings in front of the log fire needed musical accompaniment. They needed some French invention. They needed the sublime Moon Safari by Air.
Since the late ‘80s the explosion of dance music into the mainstream had a minefield of sub-genres. I’d always had a soft spot for what I’m lazily going to call chill-out, but as usual you needed to find the good stuff, usually on a Café Del Mar compilation or something by D*Note, Nightmares On Wax or William Orbit. Now, Air were different. Electronic and most definitely ambient, soothingly jazzy, but above all these were great songs.
Dreamy and cinematic, the production was gorgeous, giving depth and soul to the vocoder, Mellotron plus myriad of synths and electric pianos. Opener La Femme D’Argent encapsulates that gorgeousness perfectly with Nicholas Godin’s bass playing the lead role. Soul is not a word I’d use to describe Sexy Boy. Kitsch, catchy and hit single would sum it up, but after too many listens I could do without it. All I Need and You Make It Easy feature Beth Hirsch on vocals; the former is pure bliss, absolute heaven, as seductively serene as it gets.
Kelly Watch The Stars was the band’s second hit single and I’d simply ditto Sexy Boy. For me, it was the album’s ability to sooth, to literally relax the mind and body that was its appeal. Kitsch for hit singles is fine, but give me the sumptuousness of Ce Matin La any day with its tranquil tuba and flickering strings and synths. Moon Safari completely won me over and was almost immediately followed by Air’s debut EP Premiers Symptômes released the previous year, as well as Alex Gopher and another French electro pioneer Étienne de Crécy aka Super Discount. For electro in the late ‘90s the French really had it going on.