In 1991 I began working with the man I came to know and love as Welsh Jim. This for the twin and very obvious reasons that A) his name was Jim and B) he had a Cambrian brogue that rendered pronunciation of the words “Mötley Crüe”, frequently and hilariously as “Mutley Crow”. Jim’s ambition it was to appear on Countdown and repeatedly ask for consonants in the hope of eventually getting the word “rhythm”. It is with this lofty aim in mind that I now present to you the nature and influences of the Slender rhythm section. Jim, wherever you are, we salute you.
And after that moving introduction I have to admit to neither the motivation to relearn the bass (former members of the inadvisably named “Absolutely Harpsichord” take note) nor the room to set up a drum kit. Always assuming I could be arsed to learn how to play it even if I had. No, I plan to press whatever buttons are available to me on whatever home studio software I happen to get. A phrase which tells you succinctly that my supergroup is still at the planning stage. Fortunately this reliance on electronica neatly coincides with a reappraisal of disco which I have been surprised to find overcoming me in recent years. With the advent of punk, disco began to acquire a status similar to that enjoyed by Jimmy Saville today. Punk’s anger clashed with disco’s blinkered hedonism. Disco’s lush production was anathema to punk’s garage ethic and the adrenelin 1-2-3-4 rush of punk’s DIY manifesto was never going to accomodate disco’s traditional songwriting values. “Disco sucks” read the badges. Disco just wasn’t wearing the right trousers. Not metaphorically and certainly not literally. Whilst doing a bit of youtube related reasearch for this, I found a majority of disco classics under the heading “100 greatest office party floor fillers” as if even today disco is still regarded as the preserve of the drunk and the ironic. But scratch beneath the highly orchestrated surface and you’ll find, like all the best music, a simplicity entirely in keeping with Sniffin’ Glue fanzine’s helpful instruction “here’s three chords. Now form a band”. Take, for example, a particular favourite of mine, “can you feel it” by the Jacksons. Listen carefully (or even carelessly, as you can hardly miss it) and you’ll hear a bassline so moronic that Dee-Dee Ramone would have dismissed it as too simple. For the bass players among you who wish to attempt it, here is the score… Dunk. Dunk. Duh dunk. Duh-dunk. Dunk. Duh dunk… (repeat to end). The drummer similarly declines to pull his finger out and seems to have later found employment on the Human League’s “don’t you want me”. Neverless the two combine to rock, as I believe the kids say, a big fat one and one is left wondering why, as Michael Jackson himself may have said, I just can’t, I just can’t, I just can’t control my feet. I’ll tell you why Mickey, yer dead weirdo you. It’s because disco moves you sonically and not just rhythmically Or put another way, disco harnesses the power of a well placed chord change to go straight to your hips. Take the chorus of the above mentioned, climbing as it does to an ecstatic Mount Everest of passion (ooohh, I’m on a roll tonight). Or when Gloria Gaynor tells of “every time I think I’ve had enough and start heading for the door…” proving Cole Porter’s dictum of the strange change from major to minor. No matter how familiar these songs are you still get the butterfly chills up your spine telling you to turn around (you fool), put your bacardi and coke on the table and get down tonight. This is music for a totally punked up generation of glitterball shamen who might well be aware that love, love will tear us apart, but have realised that you don’t get over it by wearing a raincoat and contemplating a pan-european subculture.
Mind you, there’s a lot to be said for wearing a raincoat and contemplating a pan-european subculture. Indeed, for my generation it was a neccessary rite of passage akin to the national service of our parents. Bill Bailey writes fondly and accurately about this, remembering his own teens spent wandering around listening to “heroes” by David Bowie on his walkman. Those of you raised in more cosmopolitan surroundings than me and Bill may not understand the huge comfort to be had in imagining a world populated by fascinating people with marvellous cheekbones all reading much more interesting books than you. Or maybe the same books… but understanding them! A world where wandering around at two in the morning in a raincoat and walkman doesn’t arouse the suspicions of the local constabulary. “What’s going on ‘ere then? Contemplating a pan-european subculture are we? You’re up to no good sonny”. An early and equally grandiose soundtrack to my own raincoat wearing years was Simple Minds’ “empires and dance”. Released before they started rolling up the sleeves of their Armani jackets and filling football stadia it was, I recall, described at the time as a nightmarish version of Donna Summer (as if Donna herself wasn’t disconcerting enough. I mean, have you listened to “I feel love”? Off its head. If you need reminding, youtube offers the chance to listen to a “time stretched” version. Although at nearly 45 minutes this is probably only for the very dedicated and/or chemically enhanced. I managed about about two minutes before reaching for the cream crackers and a stout cheese selection to bring me back to earth) and indeed you can imagine (if you’re wandering around at two in the morning contemplating a pan-european subculture) Giorgio Moroder joining hands with George Orwell to dance over fallen statues of eastern bloc dictators. Jim Kerr was apparently ripped to the tits on amphetamines during the recording and clearly no amount of brie was going to sort him out. “Europe has a language problem” he bellows importantly on opening track “I travel”, before proceeding to bark unintelligably in a style predating Vic Reeves’ club singer by a good 15 years. Meanwhile the bass player is nailing one of the greatest bouncing-a-ruler-on-the-edge-of-a-desk basslines in rock’n’roll history. Ready bass players? Here it is… dunkdunkdunkdunkdunkdunkdunkdunk (repeat to end). Eventually it all became a bit too much for me and I think I gave the album away to someone at school. Gave it away mark you. This at a time when paper rounds didn’t leave room for poor judgement in record purchasing. With the passing of 35 years and the diminishing possibility of supporting a synthpop haircut I’ve come to love it all over again. I now feel that any musical project, real, imaginary or the simply wildly optimistic, would be enhanced by the ‘Minds repetoire of synthetic burps, squelches and doom laden farty noises. And I feel confident that Welsh Jim would wholly agree with me.