This is the 30th Year of the legendary music label On-U Sound. It’s all been a bit quiet the last few years whilst its number one top dude and owner Adrian Sherwood has been pursuing some solo stuff.
The celebrations have been kicked off by the release of a new African Headcharge album, ‘Voodoo of the Godsent’, a return to the twisted dub of earlier Headcharge albums with a few new techniques thrown in as well as the ‘ghost’ of the great King Cry Cry- Prince Far-I. A wonderous affair- pre-orders of the cd were signed by Sherwood and Bonjo, nice.
Next on the agenda, and first of many live On-U events this year, was the return of the mighty Tackhead and Mark Stewart. The night, at The Den (was The End- did you see what they did there?) in Holborn, was put together by Moody Boy Tony Thorpe, and promised to be deep.
And all on my birthday, for which Tony put me on the guest list- Thank you.
So off Lucy and I went to London, a lovely day was had, two highlights being several Cappuccino’s at Bar Italia– truly no better coffee to be had anywhere, and sitting in Soho Square people watching.
Advertised at opening at 9.00, off we traped to The Den. On finding it, it’s hidden in a back steet, we found a similarly aged gent with his e-mail print out ticket thing in hand looking as perplexed as ourselves, he was expecting a gig and expecting to be on the bus home by 12.00. We wandered the streets waiting for the place to open- it had been a long day and more drink would have put us to sleep [not as young as we once were]. At 10.30 the place opened, the little back street had been transformed with barriers and security beyond recognition- there also seemed to be a lot of similarly aged people hanging about [we’re talking 40somethings here, and black was the dominant colour, not Goth black, but ex-punk, new wave cynical black] and hair was at a premium.
Inside we were treated to £4.50 cans of Red Stripe [that one can was to be the last of my birthday- not through tiredness now, you understand!] and more importantly the old skool tunes of Tony Thorpe, he being selector and another guy putting the records on- the mixing wasn’t the point here, the tunes were everything- to me. We had Pil, Renegade Soundwave [twice!], Colourbox [Baby I Love You So,I danced alone, it was perfect] in amongst some newer stuff and other tunes from Tony’s Box.
This was all in a side bar, a big black curtain separated off the ‘stage’ area, people waited, peered around the curtain and waited some more and chatted.
At around 12.00 the curtain was removed and we all flooded in to the ‘stage’ area, I say ‘stage’, this is a night club, and the ‘stage’ slightly risen- this was going to be an intimate gig- fantastic! I stuck myself at the front in front of the bass amp, there was only one guy and his missus in front of me [they wouldn’t be there long].
12.30 some little guy with a bandanna pushed past me- blimey, Keith Leblanc! He settled himself behind the drums, did a few rolls played along with the dub tune being played over the system and generally looked cool- I didn’t see his footwear [more of this later]. A little while later another little guy Skip MacDonald and then some dreads Doug Wimbish made their way on to the stage, I shook each’s hand as they passed and wished them luck- rude not to [happy birthday, me!] and the moment had arrived. I stood aside for a huge dread headed guy, who placed his hands on my shoulders and said’ Nah, you’re alright dude’- singer Bernard Fowler! He watched the band launch into their first bass heavy industrial funk workout, before joining them on stage.
This was the first time Tackhead had played in London for 21 years, which meant that was also the last time I saw them, as Gary Clail’s backing band on the ‘Pay It All Back World Tour’ back in 89/90- really? Time flies…
I wont do a track by track analysis, but what happened for the next hour and a half or so was some of the greatest loudest crunchiest funk I’ve heard in a long time- they are just so unique- their beats are hard, Skips guitar sings or growls depending on the mood of the DM booted genius, the vocals are sweet, the harmonies close to pop! and the Bass- the Bass well, extraordinary Wimbish has this array of pedals in front of him that do incredible things- on in particular, his Green pedal makes the loud bass of before seem quiet- it’s like a 747 taking off. He hit it with his all black Converse All Stars, and the couple in front of me left- I knew they were soft [sensible?]. I now had space to funk- this was, of course, when there wasn’t a video camera, video phone or digi camera within hitting distance- there were loads! A plea- if you’re going to video stuff, and get in my way, at least put the footage on youtube or suchlike. Thanks.
At one point Wimbish walked off the stage with his Bass and strolled into the crowd playing encouraging a few people to stroke his wood(en guitar), playing with his teeth like a be-dreaded Jimi- the guy is a genius and obviously a very nice bloke who loves his audience.
We were promised some new Tackhead material later in the year, a new track was played. And it was over.
A short interlude of about 25mins bought a huge imposing presence of a man placing four cans of strongbow on the stage- Mark Stewart, either being respectfully left alone or not recognised, not sure which- big bloke though, maybe folk were just scared!
The band returned- for those not in the know, The Maffia are Skip MacDonald, Doug Wimbish and Keith Leblanc, and Mark is a bit like a more shouty/angry Gary Clail- and a little more unhinged.
The industrial funk of before was replaced by a more dubcentric sound, more people looking at each other with that ‘Bass face’ which says ‘Ooooo, man, that’s deep’, in fact very similar to the ‘Bass face’ on Doug Wimbish through most of the set.
This was more of a dub affair, and the presence of Sherwood at the controls, which was noticeable during Tackhead, was now thrown to the fore. At times it felt like my body was in control of the volume and intensity of the music- the dub would slow down and then gradually build, as it did so my ‘dancing’ would writhe and rise with it, until the guitars were screeching, the drums were pounding, the Bass was roaring and Mark was screaming ‘Hysteria!’, we were one- I love moments like these, being fully immersed in the live experience.
There were still people videoing, but at this time I couldn’t care if I sent their gadgets flying- just stay out of my way, I was very happy.
We were treated to some Pop Group stuff too (Mark’s previous band), and then they were off. A bit more hand shaking, and general respect for some Bass love etc. Mark’s lyrics (notes?) were left on the stage, easily within arms reach, and it was noted how respectfully these were ignored by wanna be setlist grabbers (there’s probably a word for them [me] somewhere), again this could have been because they belonged to a guy who you wouldn’t mess with, who was now full of Strongbow… I saw him gather up his notes and put them neatly in a folder a bit later.
The bands now finished, we were now treated to some break-neck jungle and drum and bass over what must be one of the loudest in-club systems out there- truly astonishing. It was now 3.00 and we wanted a kip, that wasn’t going to happen!
The music gradually descended in to the sort of stuff you’d expect on a Saturday night in a club- and a strange thing was happening…The age of the people was reducing, the 40 somethings had largely buggered off [I noticed a few people from earlier who were quietly wandering about waiting for 6.00 and a train home], the amount of hair on heads was increasing, the quality of music was dropping drastically, and the amount of drink was increasing- it’s all about balance, or not as the guy in the toilet clearly demonstrated as he clattered through the trolley of deodorants and hair products and mouthwash in the toilet.
Oh yeah, the toilets- impeccable, as well as all the bits to help make you fresh and more attractive, there was an attendant in the bogs all night, keeping things pleasant, the same in the ladies, Lucy informs me there was a lady in there all night singing, ‘Come on, come on, fresh your body. Sista, sista from another mother, fresh your body’
We lasted until 5.00 then we left to walk the streets of London toward Victoria and home. London is a beautiful city to roam around, and at this time of the morning the shop displays could be appreciated.
My phone was dead, so no google maps, so I let my instincts take control, and Victoria was found.
It was a long day, but one spent with my true love- and having Lucy there too was a real bonus! (Boom!)