Soul Jazz Records – ‘100% Dynamite’

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.

Air – ‘Moon Safari’

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.

Radiohead – ‘OK Computer’

I’ve never been the most ambitious person. No grand plans or aspirations, just a little comfort and finding happiness in experiences rather than material things. Most importantly I have to enjoy working. As Bob Dylan once said: “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” I was enjoying my job at MVC but to increase the job satisfaction I wanted to manage my own shop. As that wasn’t available at Bournemouth or Poole I had to look elsewhere. I ended up in Penzance.

Living along the coast in the quaint and idyllic Marazion I lucked out on location. I was there for about nine months and during that time one album shines brightly in my musical memory alongside coastal walks, Vespa rides and jaunts over to St. Michael’s Mount. Radiohead’s OK Computer was an extraordinarily magnificent collection of fiercely intense, sometimes agonisingly sublime songs. Easy listening it was not, but most of the best albums aren’t. Thom Yorke seemed and sounded genuinely anguished, absorbed and suffocated within these songs. I absolutely loved it.

Their first album Pablo Honey was known to me by name only. Follow up The Bends I knew just because of the singles, which I liked but paid little attention to. But what was impossible to ignore and turned me most definitely on to OK Computer was their astonishing performance on Jools Holland’s Later… I think the album had just been released, so I and a queuefull of eager Penzance punters swept it up on the back of that performance.

Ok Computer is another of those albums where words don’t seem anywhere near enough to do it justice. Here’s a crappy stab… Complex, textured and ambitiously contemporary. A pulsating, guitar-driven voyage into the synthetic nature of ‘90s Britain. Alt-rock. Art-rock. Yada Yada. How does it make you FEEL? Or perhaps more relevant to OK Computer, how does it make you think?

It’s an album that begs for headphones, for the listener to be all consumed in its infinite depth, to fully commit to the ride. Clearly this was five men at their experimental peak, pushing boundaries and creating new sounds, but that’s Radiohead all over isn’t it? Constantly innovating, pioneering and futuristic. Always fucking with the music industry. Zero compromise. The best band since, well… OK Computer.

Cool, memories of an album without naming one track. That said, I loved this line from Paranoid Android

“Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking, squealing Gucci little piggy”

Supergrass – ‘In It For The Money’

At the start of ’97 I made two notable purchases. A flat and a 1963 Vespa Sportique. I loved that scooter and the ride outs to the Isle of Wight and trips to the New Forest, Sandbanks and Studland. The flat in Westbourne Arcade was a good move. Fun times were had, mostly with MVC comrades and the odd bottle of JD. I was still DJing at Shake Your Mini and having a love/hate thing with much of the indie and Britpop, which, like Oasis’ Be Here Now was an overblown bore. But some bands were on it, and none more than Supergrass, whose second long-player In It For The Money was an absolute gem.

I Should Coco largely passed me by, but Alright was impossible to ignore being the stormer that it was. In It For The Money is bookended by what is effectively an average intro and a below average outro, but what is contained within is all killer, no filler. Richard III should be the opener. Bam! Straight in. No messing. A more grown-up, edgier, harder Alright, it’s another classic, iconic pop single that delivers in deep, heavy spades. Tonight keeps the energy and tempo at max before Late In The Day takes it down a notch or three and wins just because of Gaz Coombes’ vocals.

Sun Hits The Sky wins best track of the album. Nah, best track of the year. This is Supergrass in top gear, in overdrive, at glorious downhill with no brakes full pelt. I’ve no idea what it’s about but it sounds like an exhilarating tour de force with added groove once Mick Quinn’s bass storms the last minute. Going Out has a touch of fairground ride about it with Gaz’s harmonised vocals with added brass before It’s Not Me, an emotive and self-reflective acoustic beauty that rains sincerity…

“It’s not me, no, no, not me,
But I don’t know what is
I try and find my peace of mind
But I know what I miss
Now it’s gone
Now it’s gone
Now it’s gone.”

The album chugs along with equal measures of melody and urgency before Hollow Little Reign, which sounds like a dreamy and faintly funky album finale. In It For The Money is an exhilarating ride of positivity, due in no small part to Gaz Coombes’ vocals it emanates everything that Britpop at its best was trying to be. It’s two tracks away from being a classic album, but for Sun Hits The Sky alone it does more than enough to remind me of a very sunny summer, of t.shirted, traffic dodging Vespa rides over to Shell Bay and Studland. Bliss.