CELEBRATE THE GOOD
Prince and Michael Jackson may have dominated the black popular
music ofthe late 1980s. but they follo
w in the wake of a healthy
tradition of post-Sixties dance music which produced not only great
ﬂoor-fillers. but also countless imper
ishable classic recordings. As
Kool & The Gang and The Commodores visit Scotland. ALEX
MATHIESON looks back to the clas issues an invitation to get down. y'all.
he 1988 Stock. Aitken and
Waterman remix of Kool & The Gang‘s Celebration represents not only the emasculation ofa momentous piece of dance music. but also the final triumph ofsterile. programmed synthesis over innovative. energetic authenticity.
The essence ofthat great song. the driving bass and keyboard riff which prompted many a thousand faint hearts to abandon their inhibitions and get onto the dance floor. has been nullified with a precision which only SAW could engineer ~ they have even excised the glorious. crashing brass chords. The result is a hollow. aimless and listless shadow of the 1980 original. but. as we approach 1990. it is plain that it is also standard. modern and sadly acceptable.
As Kool & The Gang take the stage at the Playhouse. there will be many among the audience who will recognise that Kool. J.T. and the boys are one of the few remaining survivors of the great age of American (for want of a better word) ‘disco‘ in the 1970s and early 1980s. Bands like Earth. Wind & Fire. The
Gap Band. Chic. The Commodores and The Isley Brothers produced strings of records which made millions of hearts rise. millions of tears fall. and. most importantly.
sic years of disco-funk. and
millions ofpeople dance. slithering around to Ernie lsley's hypnotic guitar on That Lady. gyrating unashamedly to EW&F's Boogie Wonderland. or lying on the floor in a human chain doing the disco version of the Slosh to The Gap Band's ()ops L’pside Your Head. Happy days.
The sadness felt at their passing is not just born of nostalgic yearning for ‘the good years‘: it is also a recognition that the music has moved away from musicianship and emotion towards programming and sterility. The revolution begun by Giorgio Moroder's I Feel Love in 1977. faultlessly performed. it must be said. by Donna Summer. but containing within it the germ of computer technology’s takeover from musical instrumentation. has become the establishment of the sampling. techno-crazed 1980s.
We should mourn that loss of musicianship. for the musicians added untold depth and dimension to the songs. Commodores bass player. Ronald LaPraed. who exhibits such astounding versatility. supplied the power and drive which balanced Lionel Ritchie’s sentimental indulgences.
Ernie lsley's blistering guitar work. eventually recognised with the ultimate accolade of being more
‘Ernie‘ than ‘Hendrix‘. was the fulcrum on which the brothers and keyboard man Chris Jaspar produced their magnificent records between 1973 and 1977. from 3+3 to Go For Your Guns. Ernie provided the creative spark which moved the band from Twist and Shout and This Old Heart ofMine to Summer Breeze and Fight The Power.
The combined energy of the unit that was Earth. Wind & Fire. a wonderful collage ofvoices and instruments. generated an irresistable power and emotion which. for this writer. reached its zenith in the 1981 album Raise. containing the quintessential disco cut Let's Groove and the indescribably marvellous but incomprehensiny ignored ('hanging Times.
And. above all. Bernie Edwards and Nile Rodgers. displaying an unsurpassed quality and imagination in Chic; two jazz players who brought their incomparable talents to the dance floor and breathed new life into the music. lfanything sums up the essence of the period. and demonstrates the effect of quality players. it is surely Good Times. Where are their peers today. outside the Minneapolis connection?
It was real music. played by real players. At their best. those bands produced a joyoust explosive mix of power and subtlety. raunchy sex and innocent love. rootsy worldliness and religious spiritualism. Visually.
John Martyn and Danny Thompson are performing their celebrated duo in a packed City Hall in Glasgow. Mid-way into the set. Thompson disappearsfromthestage. . only to re-appear
moments later on the balcony. remonstrating
with a persistent idiotic heckler. Martyn glances
up. gives an ‘it‘sjust
l pint. but he has put that ' aspect of his life firmly
'Yeah. well. I don't need to suck on a bottle any more -ldon’t drink and I don't smoke and I don't take drugs. but a lot of People have blown it during those years. and I
feel very honoured to be getting another crack at my age. when most people are starting to think about bus passes and stuff.‘ That other crack comes in the form of Danny I Thompson's Whatever. the first group the fifty year old bass player has led under his own name since the mid-Sixties. In between times. he established a fulsome reputation as an exceptionally lyrical
their stage shows and dress tended to be spectacularly over the top. mirroring the extrovert nature ofthe music. Energy. emotion. and quality were the key words. a formula which proves elusive to most. but was commonplace to them.
Things moved on. as they must. and much of the sparkle died. EW&F ran into ego problems and seemed to fall apart before their tenuous reformation as a shadow of former glories. The lsley Brothers slipped into a rut from which they have not re-emerged: Kelly lsley‘s death in 1986 compounded serious problems of lost direction. The dynamism which produced Burn Rubber On Me seemed to desert The Gap Band. Edwards and Rodgers went their separate ways. seemingly happier behind the studio controls. And Kool and the (iang mellowed with time. more comfortable with Joanna and ( 'herish than ( 'elebration and Get Down ()2: It.
Now. in the late 1980s. as we traverse through (iarage. House. Acid. Techno. Deep l louse. Acieed and (hopefully) back again. we will continue to find great dance music. great songs. But for those at the Playhouse and The Forum. the special years of that music. music of human warmth and passion. will perhaps already have passed.
K ool and The ( ian g are at Edinburgh Playhouse on 3 April; The Commodores are at Livingston Forum on 6 April. See Rock listings.
Paul has also become a member of the touring group. something the leader feels is very important.
‘l‘m a strong believer in the old-fashioned idea that what you record you should be able to reproduce on gigs. It’s fine getting good budgets to make clever albums. but I think if you pay a fiver to see someone. you should l at least expect to hearthe l
thing which maybe lured you in the first place.‘
Whatever reflects Thompson's abiding love for English music. a field which he feels is under-developed in comparison with the kind of advances which have been made. for example. in Celtic music.
Danny' kind of shrug. and carries on playing as if nothing was happening. ‘Were you there!‘ the bass man laughs. ‘Yeah.
well. the guy was being rude and annoyingto everyone. and he had to be ejected. If it was in my house. l‘d chuck him out. and the same thing applied. A lot ofpeople paid good money to hear the music. and we wanted to play. and that geezer shouldn't have been there.Nothingtodowith drinking. really. that‘s just me!‘
That was back in the Seventies. when Thompson was known to sink more than the odd
performer on his instrument. most notably with Pentangle and in that association with Martyn. but he is out to establish a similar profile for his own highly melodic group this time around.
The trio who played on the band‘s first album. Whatever. have been expanded to a quartet for the new record. Whatever Next. Saxophonist Paul Dunmall joins Danny. guitarist Bernie Holland. and reeds and pipes player Tony Roberts (Thompson likes the extra space created by the absence of drums) on what is a more open blowing session than their acclaimed debut.
‘The neglect ofour music is typical of the English— there are no statues to Elgar or [)elius. Politically. l'm against nationalism of any kind. because it leads to too many punch-ups and people getting killed. but in musical terms I think there are particular melodies and harmonies that are very English. and ldon‘t think they have been properly exploited. Things like Basket oflfggs or Hop Dance on the new record reﬂect that music. and that is the music] grew up with. Music doesn't come from academics. it comes from peasants. from ordinary
32 The List 24 March—6 April 198‘)