Sunday, June 12, 2005

Mix tape as muse

The Mix Tape book got me digging around for mix tapes at home. I’ve had dozens given to me – and even though they were the most-listened-to sources of music in my flat all those years ago, I clearly placed no value in them. Most of the ones given to me were obviously lent / lost / nicked / given away. Conversely, I have a house full of pre-recorded cassettes that I bought but never listen to now.

In the absence of tapes that were given to me, the most interesting one I found in the end was one that I did. I compiled it for a load of people that I worked with in the late 1980s.

I was leaving the job and it was a going away present (I know you're supposed to get presents when you leave a workplace, but ....). The workplace was a fairly structured, well-managed publishing business. I'd gone there intending to learn the trade and then move on to something I'd be more interested in. I wanted to work for something relatively non-commercial (trans: a bit more right-on) but I knew that some solid commercial skills would help.

It was a career-plan that started to feel contemptuous of the people in the conventional business that I was using as a stepladder. Perhaps I was a bit guilty about that.

The company was at an odd cross-roads. They'd always recruited school-leavers and they had fairly settled group of staff who'd been there for years. All of a sudden, they'd started recruiting graduates - some were vaguely arty types. Within two years, the carnage that went though the publishing industry in the early '90s had shed many of them.

So in a structured suburban company, there were suddenly loads of twenty-somethings all keen to show that they had distinguishing features. (Subtext: "You don't have to be mad to work here - but it helps!!") I chose outspoken lefty-ness and a professed interest in odd music. I took care to build my cover here - I rapidly rose to the top of the Union branch (it was seen as career suicide, but I wasn't planning to stay – I think I was the only volunteer).

And I had been in a band that featured a Uileann Piper. Beat that!

The tape was part of that. I wanted them to like me and remember me as being a bit unconventional. I think I blew it, though, by waving a lefty middle finger on the tape's cover. I printed off a copy of a Paul Hogarth sketch (from 'Brendan Behan's New York') of the Statue of Liberty and called it ....'Liberty.'

Side A
Instrumental intro from 'The Singing Detective' (Peg O' My Heart?)
Instrumental / Singapore - Tom Waits (the instrumental may be from Swordfishtrombones?)
Turkish Song of the Damned - The Pogues
The Two O'Clock Waltz - The Stars of Heaven
Black Widow - Michelle Shocked (from a Cooking Vinyl sampler)
Silas Stingy - The Who
Big Nothing - The MacManus Gang (from the Straight to Hell soundtrack)
Cardiac Arrest - Madness
Baby Please Don't Go - Them (from the Wild At Heart soundtrack LP)
Any Kings Shilling - Elvis Costello
Wendell Gee - REM
Tattoo - The Who
Dem Bones - The Ink Spots

Side B
In Dreams - Roy Orbison
The Boy Named Sue - Mary Mary (from 'Til Things Get Brighter’ a Johnny Cash tribute LP)
The Oxford Girl - Oyster Band
Goo Goo Muck - The Crammps
It Won't Hurt (when I fall down from this barstool) - Dwight Yoakham
Knowledge of Beauty - Dexy's Midnight Runners
And the Dog Was Sleeping in the Corner - John James
My Lord My Lord - Muzsikas
Across the Universe - Laibach
Sunday Morning - Velvet Underground
Summer in Siam - The Pogues
Midtown / 9th and Hennepin - Tom Waits

There are lots of wheezy accordions and suchlike here. The Stars of Heaven song drips with sleepy lust. Black Widow's Hammered Dulcimer is fascinating. It's one of those songs that has you skipping the needle back all the time to listen again. The John James track is a bit of demented attack from acoustic guitars. Tattoo and Silas Stingy are early English psychedelia that is often overlooked.

The Laibach track is a bit scary. The whole tape is quite moody and a bit dark at times.

I put the Costello track on for Davy Spillane's Uileann Pipes but I've gone off the song now. I wish I'd put something from Davy's 'Atlantic Bridge' on instead - but when compiling the tapes, I think I was trying to tell the people who were to listen to it that pipes, accordions, dulcimers and things like that weren't just a bit of quirky anthropology. A bona fide popstar like Costello would show that.

To the same end, I included the Muzsikas track - a stunning Transylvanian song that I first heard while lying in bed during a long night suffering from concussion. It was on a night-time World Service's folky programme (Andy Kershaw I think) and I thought I was dreaming it when I first heard it. I woke up with the name of the song written on an envelope and it took me weeks to find in the shops.

Some of the tape was the mainstream stuff that I listened to at the time. I spent a lot of the '80s replaying Madness LPs - I've got the lot and they got better as time went on. REM went bad about the time of this tape (maybe a year or so before it?) but Wendell Gee is in keeping with the more melacholy songs here.

I spent most of the time that wasn't dedicated to The Pogues and Dexy's listening to country music and it's associates. I was also single at the time and went to the flicks a lot - David Lynch films have a few cameos here and the MacManus (Costello) Gang piece has a Spaghetti Western feel. I was an acquaintance of Elvis's dad (Ross) as well at the time and I met him a few days after he recorded the trumpet part on this track. Looking back, I'm surprised at the lack of any Manchester stuff - Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, or guitar bands like Ride who I liked at the time.

But I really had to play the tape twice because I couldn't believe that there was NO BLACK MUSIC on it. None of the On-U Dub that I was listening to at the time. Not even any Prince or De La Soul. In the early 1980s or anytime after 1990, at least half of any compilation I'd do would be black. Strange. On reflection, the workplace concerned fairly 'white'....

I used the think about music all of the time. Listening to this tape has brought back loads of things I've forgotten. It's better (and cheaper) than therapy. I'll look out some more old tapes soonish. Posted by Hello


rockmother said...

I've got a bag of around 25 or so tapes in an old doctors bag and a further crate half full of more that I made or recorded from the radio (some pirate) from 1977 onwards. They start off rather random and badly recorded and end up very organised and well recorded. I was still making tapes up until five years ago. I'm going to dig them all out and might put a few on my blog too. I know some of the teenage ones are prob rather embarrassing - lots of anarchy signs scrawled in marker pen all over them much to my mother's horror at the time!

Paulie said...

Anarchy signs? Most teenagers are anarchists of one kind or another.

I did something much more embarrasing: Becauase everyone's big brother was into Northern Soul in Nottingham (in the late 1970s), I bought the one single that I knew to be...

a) affordable
b) identifiably Northern Soul

... and covered the paper sleeve in hand-drawn 'Keep the Faith' stickers (with a clumsily-drawn fist on it).

AND it was a truly dreadful record. Northern Soul consisted of quite-good retro Soul and really cheesy instrumentals. 'The Flasher' by Mistura was one of the worst examples of the latter.

rockmother said...

Haha....very sad but obviously extremely important at the time. I've also found a few tape boxes with crudely drawn Crass logo's as well which I spent most lessons trying to perfect in the back of various text books instead of learning. Oh god, much worse - I've just remembered that I also scratched an anarchy symmbol on my forearm with a compass as well as piercing my own ears with a previously boiled safety pin which I left in until my mum noticed despite the fact I was beside myself with pain. How bloody desperate is that? Especially as the up-shot was that I got grounded for half of the entire summer holiday. Awful. And all for a bit of idle self-expression. Tragic! Needless to say I have turned out extremely well considering.

Paulie said...

Grounded for Anarchism! How unlike the home life of our own dear Emma Goldman....

rockmother said...

I've just found some more and put them up on my flickr photostream and blog. I'm getting quite obsessed with them!