Sartorial Sampler & Sartorial Sampler II: Readymade - Various Artists (Sartorial Records)
Well, here we are with another pair of CDs, both with a minimum of five bottles. Bag ‘em, folks, and you’ll find you suddenly have a yen for heading to the Sartorial Records site and loading up that shopping cart.
You know ‘mixtapes’, that modern nonsensical term for a compilation CD? You know how you used to make ‘compilation tapes’ yourself? Partly we did this so we could take some of our favourite songs and put them alongside those rarities like flexidiscs or 7”s so our original vinyl discs wouldn’t get worn out, and partly, of course, for the same reason then as now: radio is mostly rubbish.
I recall the sensation when a Misfits song did the rounds of this fair city (Adelaide), by dint of a compilation tape. Bands heard the Misfits for the first time (it was, I think, 1986 or 1985) and suddenly the Iron Sheiks were covering "Where Eagles Dare" and everyone was rabbiting on about the band, pestering a certain record store for imports. As I say, radio is mostly rubbish.
For the last few decades, music mags have been putting out a compilation CD with each monthly issue. This is clever, because it exposes old goats to new artists, and young goats to old artists, and causes an increased demand in same. Artists, not goats, you bloody buffoon. The method to discover music - real music, not those speedbumps on The Voice - is to hunt for it.
Now, the thing is, that most magazine freebie compilation CDs, if you were to listen to them in their entirety, don’t usually work as a united whole. That is, there is little cohesion, little balance. This is partly because the artist’s representatives don’t always give permission for the music to go on the disc. Sometimes the fee is too high (I am told). Almost always, there could be better chosen songs. So most of those discs have high ‘skip this track’ rates.
Not these two. Sartorial Records are well and truly plugged into the sideways-stepped London zeitgeist. If a music festival had as few as two of the artists on any of these discs, you’d be obliged to turn up. Put it this way, this label has an absolute slug-fest of fabulous music in its storeroom waiting for your ears. 18 tracks per cd. Remember that line from Cheech and Chong, ‘put the radio down or I’ll throw it on the ground’? Well, go ahead, smash the radio. Who needs it with CDs like this?
The first sampler has a cover design like one of those old metal-ring notepads, the logo is similar, and, you know that strange little gap behind the spine of the cd case..? There’s a little pencil in there, lovingly sharpened, with an eraser on top. People spend a lot of money on a CD box, but this is one of the cleverest I’ve seen, and to some extent worth getting if you like such delightful things. Not, perhaps, a work of art. But a lot closer than a lot of stuff pretending to be art, you know?
But the music… ah.
The Higsons I have reviewed here before, so it will suffice to say that “Music to Watch Girls By” is on a par with everything they’ve done before. Originally by Bob Crewe in 1967 (via, apparently, a Pepsi ad) and usually performed without the lyrics, The Higsons have retained the lyrics and voila! A little ripper, familiar yet new.
BUtterfield 8 are named for the 1960s film (you’d better check that out, too), and their take on “The Talented Mr Ripley’” (the title of a famous 1960s novel and film) is, I suspect, their interpretation of the theme tune, a louche, lazy sexpot of piece which sways back and forth like a rude lady’s bottom. I rarely enjoy hearing the vibraphone, but its use here is measured and rather lovely. Terry Edwards’ arrangement here allows the heart to race and throb … Needless to say, BUtterfield 8 are a modern jazz outfit with a serious ’60s bent. Fabulous.
Noonday Underground and Funkhead’s “Noonday Boost” takes us right up to date with those modern groove which only funkheads steeped in classics long before they were born can do. Dead set lush, I’m telling you. Pulsing and sexy, what the Americans call “classy” without realising you can enjoy something without putting a tag on it.
Now we break the tempo for Terry Edwards and the Scapegoats’ ‘Hey Louis, Let’s Do Lunch’, which takes us a little by surprise. The narrator’s whining, in-yer-face-innit nasally voice nagging at us like the wannabe he is. Interestingly, although we find him risible, by the end we realise the request is … a very nasty threat. Repeated listens have increased my delight at how Edwards has structured the piece with such straightforward subtlety.
Die Geisthosen are … no, I’ve never heard of the bastards, and neither have you. Remember when you discovered the most disgusting, discordant cover version you’ve ever heard, and revelled in it for weeks..? This version is excoriating, utterly brilliant. Remember how all those lame bands would do feeble covers of “Louie, Louie” and completely miss the point? Die Geisthosen’s … interpretation … is worth the price of admission alone. Particularly coming after “Hey Louis…”. Hysterical, violent, fabulous. The band GG Allin always wanted to have.
The Higsons’ “I Don’t Want To Live with Monkeys” and “Heat” are great songs, and here they are performed live. Rather flash; interesting to hear the differences between the original and how they tackled these creatures onstage; I particularly enjoyed the horns in ‘Heat’.
Next up are another couple of live tracks by Terry Edwards and the Scapegoats (introduced by John Peel, who always had excellent taste). You may be getting the idea that this Edwards bugger is everywhere; but actually, since Sartorial is his label, he could plaster his mug all over the place, and he seems to be in most of the bands here. However, he doesn’t, and the songs have been chosen with care, and their order tells its own story, runs its own little themes and subroutines.
“Night and the City” sounds like an interpretation of the theme from the original film - the book was by one of my favourite authors, Gerald Kersh. While the film is great, the book (recently reprinted, go to abebooks.com) is another world entirely; Kersh used to say he was the highest paid writer in Hollywood because they bought his story and only used the title. “Night and the City” is a straight-out groove, with houris and horns a-plenty. You’ll be dancing again. Hope you’re not driving.
The next Scapegoats track is “Asthma”, which slows us down to a sensual bump and grind, but remember this is live, so hopefully there were no arrests. There really does seem to be no end to Edward’s delight with horns, and the eloquent emotions he causes.
Still live with the Scapegoats, Edwards and Co are joined by Lydia Lunch. “I Like My Lowlife Low” is a damn fine piece, and Lunch’s louche drawl comes in later, and to great effect.
Lunch’s “Miserable Bastard” follows, and by now the CD has changed direction multiple times. Do you get me? Listening to it is like driving a Bugatti Vayron at 300km p/h around a track, then abruptly finding you’re in the same seat, but on a camel. Then the track changes and you’re in the desert, stark naked, racing the same camel but now the seat is an old rocking chair. Then the scene changes again, and you’re in a log cabin in the rocking chair watching some smash-em-up movie involving many cars. Then you’re wearing a suit and tie. Then … you with me? The elements which are similar lead us unerringly to the unexpected, losing some elements, always retaining at least one clear link to the previous track. It’s the best way to create a compilation, it causes surprise and delight, and forces you to pay attention to what’s going on.
Of course, you could just leave the cd on, but if you’re driving, you’ll end up with another speeding fine (at best).
The Biscuitmen are next with “Double Bourbon Biscuit Barrel”, thumping us over the head with what sounds like yer actual Jamaican ska, punctuated with rather glorious organ and pumping horns. You’re dancing again.
A while back Terry Edwards issued four eps, each interpreting the work of artists he admires. These eps are simply superb, and will not date no matter what. The two tracks Edwards has chosen here are “Seven Steps to Heaven” (from “Terry Edwards Executes Miles Davis”) and “Break Me Down” (from “Terry Edwards Plays the Music of Jim and William Reid”). In best punkjazz fashion, “Seven Steps to Heaven” doesn’t last over 2mins. The ending is magnificent (but don’t hit your CD player). “Break Me Down” is like a couple of romantic codas Twin Peaks or something. The amusing, and engaging thing is that both these tracks are homage and triumphant exploration.
This sublime genius is followed, in typically japeist Edwardian style, by … erm … an outfit called Serious Drinking. You may have heard of them. Their “Bohemian Rhapsody” is to be treasured. Especially if, like me, you like all the early Queen stuff but, because that bloody song sat in the top ten for what felt like four years, you cannot bloody abide its absurd, self-important, nonsensical drivel. Needless, perhaps, to say, Serious Drinking tear the bleeder a new arsehole. Just … fantastic.
Edwards returns with one of the most avant-garde monsters on this CD, “Who’s Bagging the Iraquis?”, which you frankly have to hear to appreciate. For once I’m keeping my trap shut. It’s sharp, cutting, nasty, smooth and rough all at once. Fucking out there, and you’ll dig it like a dog a hole.
Nitwood’s self-titled song follows; for a band who describe themselves as ‘experimental’ this is a rather lovely little piece, determined to bliss everybody out after a night making idiots of themselves. At over eight minutes you’ll swear this was a soundtrack to something, or that somehow you acquired a narcotic licence. On the strength of this song alone, Nitwood should be up there with that bloke who used to be in Oingo Boingo. You know. He did the music for the Simpsons and Harry Potter. Fuck it. Can’t recall. Nitwood.
Edwards then closes the CD down with the Scapegoats featuring Bruce Gilbert (of Wire); “6-8-1 (the burn-up)”, another live track which punishes us with everything, it seems, we’ve heard so far, stuffed into a blender with an angry mastiff. So ‘oriental’ horns snake around a snarling bass and … look, if you haven’t got the idea by now, I’m wasting my time.
Each artist represented here deserves your urgent acquisition thereof, surely the best result of any sampler.
The Second Sampler is called “Readymade” and naturally features an empty china ashtray on a wooden tabletop on the cover. In that handy little gap I mentioned earlier is … a cigarette. But not just any cigarette. Due (no doubt) to irritating laws governing the sale of prohibitive substances, there is no tobacco in the fag. But … seeing a real ciggie alongside the ashtray on the cover … let’s just say your attention has been lassooed, and yeah, it stays fixed for the entire CD.
Gallon Drunk start off with “Draggin Along”; not the original hit single but a variant featuring … Terry Edwards on horns; an addition which of course expands the Drunk’s repertoire to great and vasty places. But you’re too busy dancing to really bother with the details, you’re just caught up…
Gallon Drunk come from a bass-heavy groove sound akin to Tracy Pew or Chris Walsh; plus they were Australians in London when the Pew and Walsh dragsters blew into town. Unsurprisingly, their leader James Johnston is a past member of The Bad Seeds, but more fantastically, has also played in Faust.
Next comes Edwards’ rather reggae-fied version of The Fall’s “Totally Wired”, about amphetamine abuse, which is actually a great deal funnier and darker than the original. This is from Terry Edwards’ homage to The Fall; note that Mark E. Smith doesn’t take kindly to folk covering his songs, he always thinks they’ll fuck it up. Edwards fucks it up alright, and his innovative twist on The Fall has us entering another dimension. Fabulous.
BUtterfield 8 (the typesetter’s nightmares) do “Here Comes the Contortionist” which takes us into throbbing desert territory, somewhere between a harem and a Harlem, complete with snake charmers and hip-swaying. You’re dancing again.
Robyn Hitchcock’s “The Painkiller Song” takes us kinda full circle; Hitchcock actually did a song called ‘Listening to The Higsons’ (where Terry Edwards more or less got his start); so it’s rather fabulous that Hitchcock later released his music on Edwards’ label. If you’re new to Hitchcock, start now. He’s one of those remarkable individuals whose influence on innumerable musicians (whose LPs you own) is huge. “The Painkiller Song” is a lament about a cheating female and I think we’ll leave it there. Except to say that a song this bitter has no business being so beautiful.
“Touchdown” is the first of The Higsons tracks here, and is, as usual rather spiky, ripply and somewhere between rumpo and a French bar at 4am in 1924. Yes, it’s all trousers down from here.
“Ructions” wakes us up with frantic squalls and wah-wah, drags us kicking and wriggling all round the room in less than 1m30secs. Terry Edwards and the Scapegoats. Another CD to get!
Gallon Drunk’s “The Amsterdam Run” is an urgent, powerful ten-wheeled truck hammering down the highway and if you aren’t up on your feet within two seconds it’s your fault, no-one else’s. Dig it.
“Blitzkrieg Bop” like you’d never expect to hear it. Serious Drinking have serious form in the maltreatment of classics. And you know classic songs are usually approached hamfistedly. The Drinks’ version clocks in at 9 seconds flat. And it’s live, did I mention that?
“Dog Food” (also live) is introduced as ‘an old Michigan folk song’; I-94 barflies will recall this one from Ig’s “Soldier” LP, allegedly an old Stooges song. So Terry Edwards and the Scapegoats approach “Dog Food” as if it’s straight outta trailer camp, Ron Asheton-esque wah to the fore and brutality in the britches. And yeah, it really is almost like being there - to the point where, if you put it on in front of a Stooges completist, they’ll wonder how the hell they missed this one.
Nitwood make a welcome return with “Boxes”, stifling down the rawk into a back room of a pub in Deptford; somewhere between a rather mad comedian and a particularly irritating government advert for “making all the right noises’” and “ticking all the right boxes”, or “serving the right kind of pigs”. Thoroughly disturbing, which is doubtless the point. Lovely.
As I’ve never heard boo of The Treecreepers … their “Turnstone” is rather like a door into one of Alice’s odd other dimensions. Another quite queasy creation, carefully crafted. Put it on loud when you really want to confuse and upset the neighbours.
The Higsons are in top Higgy-Bosun form on “Where Have all the Club A-Go-Gos Went Went”, spindly jerky guitars and trademarks hysterical vox. James Chance and the Contortions in a suit with huge shoulderpads. “It’s the beginning of something and a whole new cycle”.
“Two Wings Mambo” starts off like it crept out of the last song, then Gallon Drunk kick over the footstool and the Vincent Black Shadows roar outta the barn. I now think of Gallon Drunk as kind of like the alternate sound of Twin Peaks, certainly they’re more real, visceral. Horribly dental guitar (?) solos. You know you’ve been bad and you want it …
“The Alchemist” is lamenting horn-based piece by Terry Edwards. He has a knack of imposing his charisma into the microphone; here the yearning for the past collides with reality’s dull routine. Enchanting.
New York, New York are as you’d expect, a knowing nod to the stylised big band and clubland era of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s; “Wicked” starts in such a way you’re half expecting either Sammy Davis or Ricki Lee Jones to start singing, possibly accompanied by a lady in spangles and feathers. A sophisticated treat; careers have been built on far, far less.
Ralph Littlejohn and Michael Cunningham present us with “Richard’s Favourite”, a short piano and horn piece which reminds me of the way Monk used to cram so much into only a few seconds (this is 77) without apparently trying.
Lob now present us with “166’ 40E 77’ 515 (Elevation 515 Km)”, a title clearly tilting at top 10 fame and glory, but which is a dreamy, romantic piece you’d not kick out of bed next morning at all. Hell, at nearly 10 minutes you’re left a wrung-out, soppy wreck by the end.
“Didjeridu” begins with the instrument of much malignity. It’s a live, star-studded item; Lydia Lunch, Johnston, that Edwards chap, Ian White and David Coulter all contribute. Lydia’s voice sounds quite un-Lunchlike, and is compelling when placed against the yowling didgeridoo. Then the band kicks in and we’re slouching down the hill toward Bethlehem. Or Bedlam, take your pick.
Now then. The CDs which form the base of these two compilations are, apparently, still available. I’ve reviewed the compilations because they’re damn good fun in themselves and not to be missed. You’ll be able to figure out which will spin your dial the most, but honestly … if you’ve ever enjoyed actual jazz, or Ed Kuepper, or The Saints third LP, or Dave Graney, or any dirty dirty fucking dirty rock’n’roll, or in fact any sort of music which bends, breaks, splinters and teases your expectations … visit Sartorial Records.
Take your card, don’t look at the postage (I doubt you’ll find these beauties in your neighbourhood record shop), and be good to yourself.
I’ll give the first sampler five bottles and the second a whopping six …