Songs from under the floorboards #5: David Essex, Muslimgauze, Furious Pig and more

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David Essex

The strangest record to hit the charts, confrontational a cappella shouting, hallucinatory electronic music and more as Getintothis’ Rick Leach returns with five more carefully selected gems.

It’s hard to predict what the future might hold.

Nobody really knows; at one time we were told there’d be flying cars and we’d all end up living on the Moon.

The crushing reality is that we’ve ended up dodging potholes on the Dock Road and no one can scrape enough money together to buy a house.

It goes the same way with music.

No-one has a clue how it will all turn out.

The unexpected rise of streaming platforms and the demise of record shops shows how little anyone knows.

After all, recorded music has only been around for a little over a hundred years or so. A mere blip in time. Maybe it will all end and vinyl, CDs and the like will be seen by our children’s children as quaint anachronisms fit only for museums of the future.

Maybe we’ve lived through a Golden Age.

And what an age it has been on the strength of these five tracks unearthed for the latest instalment of Getintothis’ Songs From Under The Floorboards.

We’ve got a great a rockabilly tune, strange blues, shouty a cappella, long and intense electronic music and the weirdest song to hit the Top Three.

Enjoy it while you can! It’ll never last.

Furious Pig

Furious Pig: I Don’t Like Your Face

When you hear a cappella groups, what do you think of?

A bit of doo-wop from the 50’s maybe? Something that would fit into American Graffiti or some light John Hughes comedy? Or, if you are old enough, you may recall The Flying Pickets 1983 cover of Yazoo’s Only You?

Or something on Britain’s Got Talent or the like?

Probably. But probably not this Rough Trade single track by Furious Pig?

But a cappella this certainly is, by any stretch of the imagination. A somewhat twisted a capella it must be said, but a cappella nonetheless.

Pure voices, working in harmony; that’s what Furious Pig were all about. As far as I’m aware this track, along with two other equally startling songs on a Rough Trade 12” were the only things they ever released. Sometimes you don’t really need much more.

They gigged extensively during their very short career, supporting the likes of The Fall, The Slits and various post-punk outfits.

In a very strange twist of fate, I saw them by sheer unplanned chance, supporting The Stranglers at Hammersmith Odeon. I’d been dragged along against my better judgement to see Hugh Cornwall and the lads, who by then were peddling their pseudo-mystical Meninblack album and all its associated twaddle on tour.

I’ve no clue whose idea it was to have Furious Pig as a support act but if it was any of The Stranglers then I’d forgive them everything.

Furious Pig lasted all of ten minutes on stage before they were bottled off by the angriest bunch of punks you can imagine. A riot was in the offing. I cowered in the corner as seats were ripped up. Who would have though a bit of shouting in unison could provoke such a reaction, but it did? That’s when the penny dropped for me that punk and all its associated values was as redundant as what it (was) set out to replace. We’d been sold a great big lie and one that’s still being peddled to this day.

But as for Furious Pig, they were still defiantly belting their a cappella out as they were dragged off stage by security. They were magnificent.

It has to be said that The Stranglers were more than a predictable let-down after that. I think I walked out before the encore.

This is why I always try to see the support acts. You never know when the next Furious Pig may turn up.

Johnny Burnette Trio: Lonesome Train on a Lonesome Track

Think of all the hard rockin’ (sic), foot to the floor, no nonsense, low down and dirty rock and roll purveyors you can. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Royal Trux. AC/DC. ZZ Top. The Ramones. Motorhead. We’ve all got our favourites. It’s a long list

None of them, absolutely none of them, hold a candle to this track by Johnny Burnette, recorded in 1953 for Coral Records.

It’s impossible to write about this track without falling deep into cliché territory as it rocks so hard (see, there I go). This is the sort of thing that’s recorded in one take and one take only.

Johnny and his Trio would have gathered around the microphone, slammed it out in three minutes and that would have been it.

No overdubbing, no multi-tracking, no auto tuning. No 48, 24 or even 8 track. The whole thing would have been ‘let’s give it a go and head off for a beer.’

It’s inevitable that there are some bum notes, out-of-tune vocals, missed cues and fluffed chords, but it doesn’t matter one iota.

This is what music should be all about-whether it’s rockabilly (like this track), blues, jazz, rock, classical; it should have this raw outpouring of emotion.

I have a recording somewhere of Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony, played in New York and conducted by Toscanini on its Western premiere in 1942.

That recording shows the (short-lived) spirit of unity between the USSR and the U.S. at the height of the Second World War and in defiance of the Nazi threat at the siege of Leningrad. That 1942 recording is powerful enough in itself; how much more powerful and emotive would have been a recording of the premiere itself from the besieged city?

It doesn’t matter therefore what sort of music it is; that passion can be as evident in a two-and-a-half minute rockabilly song as it is a lengthy symphony. It’s when music is made without that passion, and when it is simply soulless and mechanical, that it becomes irrelevant and disrespectful.

Johnny Burnette was born in Memphis in 1934. He grew up (with his brother, who also played in his band) in the same housing project that Elvis stayed in with his parents between 1948 and 1954.

There was an incorrect tale – which would have done Johnny’s career no harm of course – that he went to same school at the same time as Elvis.  However, as Johnny was little bit younger than Elvis the truth had been bent a tad.

Having said that, Johnny recalled Elvis passing him on his motorcycle, guitar strapped to his back, and waving to him and his brother as they walked to school. Imagine that? Elvis waving at you while you were on your way for double maths?

Although Johnny’s brother was a boxer for a while, and while that avenue was also open for Johnny as well, he decided that ending up with a broken nose and picking up a few dollars for each fight wasn’t really worth it.

Johnny got a job working on the river boats on the Mississippi and the story is that he honed his song writing skills by taking his guitar to work and writing songs whenever he had a spare moment. Another great and romantic story.

Johnny’s career never really took off. He was killed in a boat accident at the young age of 32 but he left the world this fantastic song.

Elvis and me: a personal reflection through 40 songs

David Essex: Rock On

Not all tracks that crop up for the Songs From Under the Floorboards are necessarily arcane or unheard. It’s not a prerequisite for an entry into this column, wilful obscurity. It helps of course, but there’s always room for other, more familiar music.

Especially if it’s a bit, well … odd.

And you’re not going to find anything much more odd than this 1973 track by twinkle-eyed Cockney actor and musician, David Essex.

While David is now known more these days as a staple fixture for TV shows such as Loose Women and the rest of the horrific daytime ilk, pantomimes up and down the land every Christmas and end-of-the-pier type 70’s music review shows, back in 1973 he, along with producer Jeff Wayne came up with Rock On.

It’s quite probable you’ve heard this more than once. If you’ve not, you’ll marvel at the sheer weirdness of it all and if you have heard it, then it’s still bafflingly strange.

What’s even more strange is that something without any guitars at all, chords or keyboards – not even a melody- managed to somehow hit home enough with the record buying public of the early seventies to become a top 3 hit in the UK single charts.

Rock On was also the only Billboard charting single Essex ever had and it managed to hit number one in Canada as well. Maybe the seventies pop audience were a bit more open-minded than we give them credit because it was way outside of the norms of the time.

What staggers me is that the label thought it was worth releasing it as a single, but I’m glad that they did. It’s hard to think that in these days, in 2019, that any major would go out on a limb so much.

Simply listening to it again, you end up with a strange sense of disquiet; eerie strings, disembodied vocals, deep echoes, disjointed dub spaciness. It’s close in tone to something Portishead or Massive Attack may have dreamt up in their more innovative phases but chucked out because it was simply too much.

I’ve played it over and over again while writing this – it only lasts for a little over three minutes – and I’ve still no idea what on earth it’s all about. Hallucinatory, dreamlike references to early rock and roll abound; although it appeared in the That’ll Be The Day film (starring Essex himself in a lead role), it would equally fit in any number of David Lynch’s classics.

And as Lynch himself might well say, if this can get to number three in the hit parade, it’s a strange world indeed.

Massive Attack’s Mezzanine: 21 years of a true classic

Muslimgauze: Arab Jerusalem

It’s pretty difficult to know where to start (or to end) with Muslimgauze.

There’s a lot going on.

Where do you begin?

Let’s start somewhere. Anywhere.

Muslimgauze was the main musical project of solo Mancunian artist, Bryn Jones. I’m writing about Jones/Muslimgauze in the past tense because he died in 1999 at the age of 37 as a result of a rare fungal infection in his bloodstream.

We hear about prolific artists all the time, ones that maybe slap out a couple of albums every year, ones with a vast discography, twenty or thirty albums and the like. Well, Jones topped the lot. You can forget your Zappa and Dylan, The Fall and Miles Davis, Lee Perry and all the rest.

In the space of just under 17 years he released over 90 albums of original material and nearly 40 EP’s on a wide variety of labels. Since his death, there’s been mountains of fresh and previously unheard material recordings issued. Prince’s vault has nothing on Muslimgauze.

This is why it’s difficult to start. With such a vast canon of work, where can you begin?

This track – Arab Jerusalem – is as good a place as any. It would be easy to say that this is a fair representation of Muslimgauze; looped sounds, found recordings, Middle Eastern images to the fore, drifting ambience.

And in many ways it is. This is immersive music. You have to somehow surrender to it, that sort of dreamlike state between sleeping and waking. It lasts for nearly half-an-hour. You have to invest times and energy and effort into it, but isn’t that what you need to do with all music that’s worthwhile?

This is the thing about Muslimgauze. The enigma at the centre of it all. There’s more to his music than this.

Everything was instrumental. Any vocals were the result of sampling and use of found sounds. He moved between heavy percussion and electronic techno stylings to Arabic drones, ghostly dub and ambience, hip hop stylings, dread gloom, intense noise and cacophony, beautiful repeating melodies and minimalism, sometimes all within the space of one album. It’s difficult to see an overall narrative.

I’ve been listening off and on since 1986 to Muslimgauze, and I still feel that I’m merely scratching at the surface.

Every so often I’ll hear a new artist come along – especially in the experimental/electronic sphere – and I’ll wonder to myself if they’ve worked up a piece as homage to Muslimgauze or if any similarities were a result of pure chance? You can hear distinct echoes in the work of artists such as Vatican Shadow, Clark and more.

In my more sceptical moments, I find myself thinking that the more difficult elements of Muslimgauze have simply been stripped out and recycled but what can you do? That’s the way it goes.

Because there are difficult elements for sure when looking at Muslimgauze. Elements that are hard to ignore.

Jones was heavily influenced by the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict, to the point of obsession. Virulently opposed to all things Israeli – he turned down invitations to visit Palestine on the grounds that he would not travel to an oppressed country and a refusal to speak with Israeli musicians even fleetingly – his titles of albums alone speak to us of a world seen in stark black and white terms: Return of Black September, Vote Hezbollah, Abu Nidal, Veiled Sisters, The Rape of Palestine and more.

How can you divorce the art from the artist? Is it possible to ignore the political or personal views of an artist when looking at their work? The Wagner question looms large over Muslimgauze.

Yet that’s something for another time and maybe another feature.

For now, for this, use Arab Jerusalem as a starting point for the music itself.

There’s another 90 albums to plough through. You won’t be disappointed.

Blind Blake: Southern Rag

I don’t have the original 78 recording of this ace tune – though I’d love to. I vaguely recall seeing 78’s as a small child, but don’t remember ever hearing them being played.

My first record player had the ability to play records at 78 rpm but the only time it ever did was when we wanted to hear Slade sounding like Pinky and Perky. I suppose my children have the same relationship with cassettes.

This was recorded in Chicago in 1927 and it still sounds as fresh as a daisy.

It’s clearly been ripped from the 78 – you can hear the record whizzing around and the needle gouging the brittle shellac. It is as scratchy as fuck, but it sounds like a 78 should.

For all the digital technology in the intervening years between now and then, it still makes me feel as if Blind Blake is sitting in the next room, banging out this tune.

I’d love to be able to play the guitar, or indeed any instrument, as well as Blind Blake does on this record. He’s picking away, so fast and so accurately, and I’ll bet he did it in one take as well. Initially you’d think that this was an instrumental as the vocals don’t come in for about 45 seconds or so.

When they do, it sounds like he was just improvising over this ragtime tune, almost rapping. I can only make out a few words and phrases- not because of the sound quality-but because of his vocal style. This just makes it more alluring as a record. ‘Go and pick that cotton… the peas are so overgrown… light my pipe, yeah…it’s that kitchen music…that’s why you have to study me now…’ that’s all I can make out and I’ve played this song a lot.

It really doesn’t sound like anything more than the coolest rap ever. I can imagine the recording session – Blind Blake asking for a microphone and making it up as he went along.

The song suddenly finishes after 2 minutes 50 seconds; probably because 10” 78’s were limited to three minutes per side. It doesn’t matter though, as Blind Blake does it all in those 2 minutes 50 seconds.

Blind Blake himself, like many early blues musicians, is an enigmatic character. It’s thought he was born in Florida in 1896 and died possibly in Wisconsin in 1934.

Even his real name isn’t known for sure. Blind Willie McTell, shortly before he died, referred to him in a 1955 interview as Arthur Phelps, though there is no other reference to him under that name.

It’s also unlikely that either of them ever crossed paths – Blind Willie McTell never went to Chicago where Blind Blake lived, and it’s thought that Blind Blake never went anywhere near Atlanta and therefore near Willie McTell.

There’s one record where he refers to himself as Arthur Blake and that’s it. We don’t really know his name. He maybe died as a result of street car accident sometime in the late 1930’s – according to the blues musician Rev Gary Davies.

Alternatively, there’s a death certificate in Milwaukee under the name Arthur Blake, giving the cause of death as T.B. This ties in not only with the birthplace and date of birth of the Arthur Blake on the certificate, but the cause of death as well.

When Paramount Records went bankrupt in 1932, Blind Blake’s career was effectively over. He apparently started drinking heavily and could easily have contracted T.B.

Even sadder than this, is the fact that there’s only one single known photograph of him in existence. It shows a big, jolly looking chap, sitting on a wooden bench, wearing a suit and a bow tie, holding a guitar and posing for the camera. The photograph is signed ‘Cordially yours, Blind Blake.

Cordially. That’s a word we should use more often.

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