The Slits – In The Beginning There Was Rhythm (1980)
At the age of 15, Neneh Cherry was introduced to seminal feminist Post Punk group The Slits by her stepfather Don Cherry, and joined them for a brief period, providing backing vocals on several tracks, including this one. The Slits were integral to the early days of UK’s Punk scene, but they quickly became musically adventurous beyond that and incredibly funky as well, further aided by producer Dennis Bovell’s dub expertise. Edginess was rarely as charming, but The Slits had loads of attitude to boot. One can assume that Neneh Cherry took her clues from the experience.
Rip, Rig & Panic – Those Eskimo Women Speak Frankly (1981)
The next band Cherry joined was a Bristol collective that included two members of the legendary Pop Group. Their music was a feverish mix of Punk Funk, avantgarde elements and Jazz. As with The Slits, Don Cherry was a collaborator, but his stepdaughter was more to the core, switching to lead vocals and displaying the mixture of charismatic Soul and Rap stylings that would make her famous later on. But before that, Neneh Cherry briefly retired to become a young mother, and the band fell apart. In 1983 the band reformed with Neneh Cherry under the name Float Up CP, and released one album, then fell apart again. But if you find a band in those years with a constant line-up, it might have been dull anyway. Rip Rig & Panic sure were not.
After collaborating with On-U Sound’s mighty New Age Steppers, Cherry teamed up with its bass guitarist George Oban and the drummer of 70s Fusion Jazz band Karma, Joe Blocker. They covered Edwin Starr’s Motown standard „Stop The War Now“ in reaction to the Falklands War, and „Give Sheep A Chance“ is its wonderful icy computerized dub version on the flip, sheep noises included. In the years leading up to the next entry, Neneh Cherry also became a pirate radio DJ, danced in a Big Audio Dynamite video, and duetted marvellously on The The’s „Slow Train To Dawn“.
Neneh Cherry – Buffalo Stance (1988)
Neneh Cherry, the pop star. Seven months pregnant with her second child but rampant with energy, she performed this ever infectious song on Top Of The Pops and stormed the top ten. „Buffalo Stance“ was referencing Malcolm McLaren’s Gals, stylist Ray Petri’s fashionable collective, and was in fact a cover version of a Stock, Aitken & Waterman produced single by her future husband Cameron McVey from two years earlier, where she already rapped about „Looking Good Diving With The Wild Bunch“ on the B-side. And the famed Bristol sound system was indeed involved with the accompanying „Raw Like Sushi“ solo debut album, as were McVey and Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass fame at the controls. In 1988 Hip Hop and House still looked at each other and the UK club scene was vibrant, as documented by magazines like I-D, The Face and Blitz. Neneh Cherry was styled by Judy Blame and photographed by Jena-Baptiste Mondino rather iconically, but underlying were lyrics that dissed gigolos and moneymen and celebrated female self-esteem. So don’t you get fresh with her!
Neneh Cherry – Manchild (1988)
Neneh Cherry telling the boys some more news (albeit with a bit more sympathy), in a fantastic downtempo song co-written by Cameron McVey and Robert Del Naja AKA 3D of The Wild Bunch, and soon-to-be Massive Attack (fellow member of both Mushroom provided a booming remix). In the rather weird video she proudly sports her now born second child Tyson and a further refined fly girl outfit with a pair of cycle shorts that were de rigeur in 1989. Ok, men mostly wore the matching cycle tops. The „cause I believe in miracles, words in heavy doses“ ending still rules supreme.
Neneh Cherry – I’ve Got You Under My Skin (1990)
This a contribution to „Red, Hot & Blue“, an AIDS charity compilation on which several artists covered Cole Porter songs. AIDS was still spreading fast, and given the topic the title is very well picked, with Neneh Cherry rapping an introduction that makes it very clear that it is not only love creeping through the body, but also very lethal disease. The heavy and brooding downbeat groove already foreshadows Massive Attack’s „Blue Lines“ album, to which she would also contribute. The video by Mondino is appropriately dark, without any misplaced pretensions. „Share the love, don’t share the needle“, it ends.
Neneh Cherry – Buddy X (1992)
Lifted from her second album „Homebrew“, Cherry again adresses men that like to play around, wrapping her criticism of male hypocrisy and infidelity with fetching Hip Hop pressure. The song still features prominently in club playlists due to its Class A Masters At Works remixes. At the height of their powers they apply their raw swing to a groove that most successfully merges Hip Hop and House sophistication, without ever distracting from the message. Deadly dubs, too.
Youssou N’Dour & Neneh Cherry – 7 Seconds (1994)
Neneh Cherry collaborates with the famous Senegalese singer for a moving celebration of humanity without prejudice. By then the combination of a downbeat and dramatic strings had almost become stereotypical, but the trilingual „7 Seconds“ still proves why it became so efficient in the first place. First, you need a good song. Second, you need good performers. Third, you will see that the tried and tested arrangement will even up the ante. The stylish monochromatic video was directed by Stéphane Sednaoui, and it works.
Neneh Cherry & The Thing – Dream Baby Dream (2012)
Neneh Cherry works with a Scandinavian Jazz trio that named itself after her stepfather. She was a longtime Scandinavian resident and Jazz has a healthy tradition there, it should not have come as a surprise. But after a long hiatus from recording music, it was. The resulting album consisted mainly of well chosen cover versions that seem to stand for Cherry’s whole life in music. They are interpreted quite freely, and Cherry still delivers. Take her version of Suicide’s No Wave classic „Dream Baby Dream“ for example. In my ears it rather sounds like her very early days than former pop star croons the standards for Christmas.
Neneh Cherry – Everything (2014)
The overdue comeback as solo performer, with an album of material that mourns the death of her mother in 2009. Four Tet is at the helm, and his sparse production focusses on rhythmic textures and subtle electronic arrangements, performed by Rocketnumbernine. The album decidedly neglects pop obligations and Neneh Cherry is evidently very motivated, and even if her songs here are very personal, they sure are engaging as well. The remixers on duty for „Everything“, Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer, must have agreed, as they already let the song seep into their trademark Micro House jam setup after only two and a half minutes.
In discussion with Aiden d’Araujo on “Rhythm Zone Vol. 1” (1989).
You chose the cassette compilation “Rhythm Zone Vol. 1“. A format that in the 80s was probably still more common for discovering new music than its according CD counterparts. Were you taping radio at a young age, and was this your first foray into purchasing what already had caught your interest?
Yeah taping radio shows was a ritual when I was a kid – got that off my Mum who would tape mixes religiously. In the early nineties around ’92/’93 we had a studio in the loft with loads of gear like Junos and Rolands. The two guys who had the studio (you may have heard one of them under his Deadly Avenger alias who released the ‘Deep Red’ LP and now scores Hollywood films) lodged with us and I remember like it was just yesterday all the trippy, ambient electronica comin’ outta the studio – I would say reminiscent of acts like the Future Sound Of London. No doubt this influenced my Mum and she amassed a series of tapes that had early electronic auteurs on then such as Pete Namlook, Move D and Biosphere (she’s still got ’em!) whose nocturnal opus ‘Novelty Waves’ never fails to transport me straight to my childhood – you remember that iconic Levi’s advert featuring the steam train with that track on it right? Anyway, all these deep as the ocean odysseys would be the soundtrack to when I went to sleep. Warp’s ‘Artificial Intellgience’ comp was another fave, and I’d always be messin’ around with the FM dial to try scope out some more otherworldly obscurities…
Another interesting development was one of my Mum’s mates who when not spraying murals (he was and still is a revered graffitti artist who very kindly sprayed the House Hunting mural for me) would host shows on Birmingham-based pirate radio station Mix FM which he would sometimes transmit from our attic. This would be my introduction to Hip Hop – whether the Britcore of Gunshot and London Posse, West Coast flavour of Snoop Dogg and Souls Of Mischief or the politically-charged Public Enemy and ghetto rap of Biggie and Wu-Tang. GZA’s ‘Liquid Swords’ and Souls Of Mischief’s ’93 Til Infinity’ always on rotation must have proper wore those tapes out on my Walkman. As well as Hip Hop on Mix FM there would be some Soul, Funk, Disco, Electro and House – which when you’re 8 years old listening to all this was a pure mind trip…
So I didn’t really need to buy tapes as there were so many avenues where I was exposed to it. Another influence was my Dad who was split from my Mum so I would stay at his on weekends 10 mile up the road in Leicester. He was in a band that covered a lot of Rock and Blues classics who were a bit of a hit in the mid-nineties with loads of bookings all over The Midlands. Anyway Leicester has a big Afro-Caribbean community and every year hosts the Leicester carnival (second only to Notting Hill in size and scope) with Aba-Shanti representing so Dub and Reggae was also the sound of my Dad’s household – he loves all the Rhythm & Sound albums I’ve got him!
Did you try several compilations and this was the one you liked best, or was this the only one at first, and by coincidence it was also the best choice to get introduced to the US import dance music styles it showcased?
This was the first I bought and I remember clocking the naff early 90s trippy artwork complete with the tag line “A galaxy of imports for under a fiver”. It was a quid so had to be copped – I thought it may be like the deep trips on my Mum’s armada of ambient tapes. It was pure coincidence that the first one I got was the best introduction to Chicago House, Detroit Techno and New York Garage. Not long after I bought ‘The Rave Gener8tor II’ tape where again the cover art enticed me and had some choice cuts on it like the Underground Resistance remix of ‘The Colour Of Love’ by The Reese Project and some Murk flavour via Liberty City’s ‘Some Lovin’. There were only a few decent tracks on this one though as was on a more hardcore tip which I weren’t feelin’ as much. Always went back to ‘Rhythm Zone Vol. 1’. Read the rest of this entry »
For many years it almost seemed as if Patrick Cowley appeared from nowhere, then achieved a stellar career in music in the brief period of only a few years, tragically cut short when he passed away due to AIDS, only 32 years old. There must be millions who danced or listened to his music, and he was most deservedly hailed as one of the most important artists in the history of club music ever since. Still, Patrick Cowley the person remained strangely unexplored. There were countless entries in books and websites specializing on Disco, yet they all used the same few photographs of him, and the same scarce biographical details. There were no interviews, no friends and collaborators were asked to tell stories. He dropped his musical vision, which was way ahead of its time, arguably still is, leaving only speculation as to what might have been, and where it actually came from.
Admittedly it was not that easy to find out when it actually happened, pre-internet, but when his fame as the synth wizard in the aftermath of the classic Disco era skyrocketed in the early 80s, he was also producing the first album by Indoor Life, the band of his friend Jorge Socarras. It was not music destined to shine under the glistening mirror balls of the hedonistic palaces of that time, it was dark and edgy. It was more Post Punk than Disco. Wait, I meant New Wave, nobody said Post Punk then. By all means it should have been proof enough that there was more to Patrick Cowley than the music he became famous for. Read the rest of this entry »