So, I’ve given up on YouTube recommendations for the moment. But, thanks to something that no algorithm has yet been able to replicate, I’ve stumbled across this, which is absolutely perfect.
It’s taken from the 1st volume of LTJ Bukem’s excellent Earth series of compilations (long overdue a reissue if any record labels are reading this), which documented that fabulous time when hip-hop, drum & bass, acid jazz & trip hop collided. It reminds me of Photek’s equally excellent Into The 90s, which was included on the era-defining 70 Minutes Of Madness by Coldcut.
And that non-algorithmic method I used to find this little slice of heaven? Serendipity – when Google manage to replicate that, I’m becoming a monk.
Moodswing by Brian Fitzgerald on flickr
I was listening to a random playlist this morning when the epic Get Closer by my one-time hope for the future, Ben Westbeech, popped up. I’d forgotten quite what a great track it is, with Die’s piano-led drum & bass and Ben’s vocals melding perfectly. I’d not heard much of Mr Westbeech since he contributed one of the stand-out vocals to Jazzanova’s (excellent) album Of All The Things and so thought it might be worth seeing if he’d done anything new recently.
Well, one quick search on YouTube later and I found Falling, the video of which is above. It struck me as a very different vibe to his earlier stuff, and according to Wikipedia, that’s because he’s moved from Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood to house label Strictly Rhythm: I’m not sure it’s such a great idea. Whilst it might be the case that Strictly can offer him more backing in terms of support and marketing (I know the guys at Brownswood have to do most things on a tight budget) I can’t help thinking the change of direction means he’ll find it even harder to stand out from the crowd.
His early work, such as So Good Today and Get Closer had a really unique feel: a great blend of soul, hip-hop, drum & bass & whatever. But a lot of the album fell somewhere in the middle and I think that Jamie Lidell rather stole Ben’s thunder, and probably did what he was trying to do better than he could himself.
Now James Blake is all set to be the next best thing, and Ben’s releasing rather middle of the road vocal house. I hope it does well for him, but it’s certainly not setting my world on fire like his first singles did.
Image by Neal Fowler on flickr
I heard this track on an old mix earlier today and could barely stop myself from jumping up in the middle of the office and breaking some serious moves. OK, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. Whatever.
I know that just about everything to do with Incredible by M-Beat & General Levy is considered to be a joke now, but at the time I absolutely loved it. The energy is amazing and, to my rather jaded ears at least, is still very obvious. It’s not the fault of M-Beat or General Levy that jungle, in this form at least, was soon co-opted by gangsters and the real-life precursors to Ali G. Leave your preconceptions at the door and try to understand that this was, and is, incredible.
Anyway, apart from anything else, this track was responsible for the best dance-music related joke ever:
Why did the monkey get lost?
Because jungle is massive
For all of those of you who also had a misspent youth jumping around in sweaty rooms to jungle & drum & bass you might also enjoy this & this.
Ben Westbeech showcased his debut album Welcome To The Best Years Of Your Life at Soho’s Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – and I managed to blag an invite…
Following a bit of the sort of blagging I haven’t tried for years (Hi. Can I come to your gig? Who am I? No one really..) I managed to get my name on the list of the album showcase for the launch of Ben Westbeech‘s debut Welcome To The Best Years Of Your Life at the iconic Ronnie Scotts. Am I glad that I did? You f***ing bet I am (and thank you again Emily).
Having seen Ben play at Lovebox back in the summer of last year I had an idea that his live show would be pretty good. But since then his act has tightened up several notches and his show was absolutely awesome (the drummer in particular was genius). The set consisted of most of the album, and if it was anything to go by (I haven’t had a chance to properly listen to the copy of Welcome.. that I got after the show yet), it promises to be one of the best albums of the year. Worldwide Winners #1 here we come!
As far as I could tell (there was free red wine!), the set list was as follows:
- Nothing Else (2nd single as showcased on Brownswood Bubblers)
- Pusherman (21st Century update on the Curtis Mayfield track – not a cover though)
- Taken Away From (with an amazing drum & bass outro, and a nice little nod to Oasis’ Wonderwall in the verse)
- Gotta Keep On (co-written with DJ Clipz – whose MySpace page seems to be down at the mo)
- Get Silly (although Ben introduced it as Rolling Round – has a nice sample from Ray Barretto’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise)
- Don’t Know Why (great accoustic number – doesn’t seem to be on the LP)
- So Good Today (absolute fu**ing roadblock!)
- Stop What You’re Doing (Ben didn’t anounce what this tune was, so I hope my memory serves me right!)
- Dance With Me (really ought to be a single – it does make you want to get and give it some)
- Get Closer (never have you heard a drum & bass tune sound so good live!)
Anyway, this just confirmed my feeling that 2007 really ought to be the year of Ben Westbeech. If anything his live stuff is even better than the recorded versions, and the guy is just pure niceness in the flesh (said hello to me after the show, rather than trying to get a restraining order). If you have any sense you’ll buy the album as soon as it comes out, and get your tickets for what promises to be an amazing gig at the Jazz Cafe before it sells out.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the music that was playing whilst we were waiting for Ben to start was the new Brownswood Bubblers compilation – as Gilles said when introducing Ben, he was pretty proud of it: I’m not suprised, it sounded bloody excellent.
Anyway, before the album comes out why not get your hands on the limited edition release of the single Hang Around (also available on iTunes)? Have a look at the video
for Hang Around of the performance at Ronnie’s below whilst you think about it (or read my full review of Welcome To The Best Days Of Your Life over at MOG)… Oh, and did I mention that Sanjay from Eastenders was in the audience (at one point having an conversation with Ben’s girlfriend’s Dad – talk about random!), as was British soul singer Nate James (sporting an awesome afro). Who’d have thought that Sanjay has such good taste?!
Ben Westbeech – Nothing Else live at Ronnie Scott’s
Ben Westbeech’s latest single Get Closer is produced by Roni Size’s colleague Die, and it’s a good reminder of how much fun drum & bass can be…..
Ben Westbeech is undoubtedly the best thing to have come out of Gilles Peterson’s new Brownswood record label to date, and his latest single shows exactly why. Following on from the stupidly infectious So Good Today, which mixed accoustic guitar and a great hip hop beat, and Nothing Else, a slice of smooth 21st Century soul, comes Get Closer – full on drum & bass with Westbeech’s sweet vocals on top.
Get Closer was co-produced by Die, a member of Roni Size’s Mercury winning Reprazent crew and mate of Ben Westbeech, and is a great reminder of how much fun drum & bass can be; nothing macho or agressive here, just a lovely piano loop, some funky bass and a raging drum beat. Whether or not it’s exactly the sort of thing that a 31 year old married man should have as the ringtone on his mobile is a matter for discussion however (ahem!)
I’ve compared Ben Westbeech to early Jamiroquai in the past, and his voice still has that sound to it. But whereas Jay kay was soon exposed as a paparazzi bashing one-trick pony, Westbeech has already explored more styles in a few singles and a string of live shows than the twatt in the hat managed in his whole career. And with Jay anouncing that he is retiring to make babies with helicopters (or something), and Ben Westbeech’s debut album, Welcome To The Best Years Of Your Life, due out in March, maybe 2007 really will be the year that he Gets Closer to stardom.
Don’t believe me? Why not download Get Closer from iTunes or buy the 12″ (which also has the rather harder Rockers mix as well). Or check out how Ben Westbeech belts Get Closer out at his live shows (some of its been dubbed on, but you can get the vibe)!
Ben Westbeech – Get Closer (Live in Sheffield)
The BBC series Soul Britannia and the accompanying set of concerts at The Barbican traced the growth of soul music in Britain…
Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy
Soul music has probably effected Britain more than any other country outside of the US or the Caribbean, which probably has a lot to do with our close ties with both these places. The BBC series Soul Britannia, and the set of concerts at The Barbican that went with the series, traced the influence of soul on British culture, and the growth of a very British type of soul music.
As I am myself British, and would say that most of the music I love could be defined as soul, I thought that I would pick out the 10 songs that best meet both criteria – the 10 best British soul songs ever.
- Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy: A truly ground-breaking record, and one of the 1st that could be considered entirely British in its sound, mixing soul, hip-hop, reggae and just about everything in between. Spawned a genre, a boundary defying career and at least one copycat video. Still sounds fresh today, and more vital than just about anything that’s been released since. The album it came off, Blue Lines, would get my vote for best British soul album of all time.
- Cymande – Bra: If not British by birth, they were definitely adopted. Made up of members who had moved from the West Indies, Cymande mixed soul, funk & reggae to make truly beautiful positive music. One of the most sampled bands ever, this track was used heavily by De La Soul and sounds like the best song that Curtis Mayfield never made.
- Goldie – Inner City Life: Jungle, or drum & bass as it would become, was the 1st truly British music genre. This epic 12″, mixing sped up break beats, heavy bass and soaring vocals stretched to 7 minutes and, renamed Timeless, a mind blowing 21 minutes on the album version. It’s like a mini-symphony. Never had British dance music had this much ambition – or so much reason to be ambitious.
- Atmosfear – Dancing In Outer Space: A tune that proved that the best disco wasn’t necessarily American, Dancing In Outer Space mixes funk, ska and a beat that wouldn’t be out of place on most house records. Probably because it influenced so many of them!
- Soul II Soul – Back To Life: Jazzie B’s crew showed the world that the UK could do hip hop influenced music as well as the Americans, if not better. Starting life (like Massive Attack) as a sound system, Soul II Soul produced songs that mixed great beats, sweet strings and amazing (mostly female) vocals. Back To Life was their anthem – and in true disagreeable Brit-style it didn’t even feature properly on their debut album: an accapella mix was included instead – a nod to their sound system days when accapellas came in handy for mixing maybe. And it has been suggested the cover of the album Club Classics Vol. 1 inspired the ads for a certain portable music player.
- The Specials – Ghost Town: The Specials took the ska music that their parents had loved in the 60s and mixed it with the attitude of punk. The result? Classics like Ghost Town. A love/hate song to their hometown of Coventry, Ghost Town became the unofficial national anthem as riots tore through Thatcher’s Britain. The band were also a shining example of the easy mix of black & white that was taking place across the country to the disgust of the far right (and in doing so became a template for many of those to come, including Massive Attack & Soul II Soul).
- Average White Band – Pick Up The Pieces: Dismissed by many as being little more than pale imitations (literally) the very Scottish Average White Band made a very un-Scottish sound. If James Brown’s backing band The JB’s had come from this side of the Atlantic, this is what they would have sounded like. Pick Up The Pieces is 4 minutes of pure funk, proving that soul is definitely colour blind.
- Freeez – Southern Freeez: This was an absolute classic of the 80s soul weekender scene (see the soundtrack to that time here). Mixing a slightly off-beat, an infectiously funky bass and a fantastic keyboard solo, this song still sounds like an entire carnival every time it plays. Jazz-funk has had a bad reputation since the 80s as it was supposedly the music of Thatcher’s south (whilst the North had The Smiths). But this was the sound of black & white Britain coming together, which is more than you could ever say about Morrissey.
- The Style Council – Shout To The Top: There is no better example of the unpredictability of British music than Paul Weller’s move from The Jam to The Style Council. Having showed off his love of Britain’s rock history with his 1st band, The Style Council owed more to Motown than The Beatles. Shout To The Top is an amazing blast of strings, soul & style and is another reason why Paul Weller is Britain’s most underrated musician.
- Omar – There’s Nothing Like This: It may be dismissed as wine-bar soul, but Omar’s classic again showed that anything America could do, the British could do just as well – but with a twist (and in some ways paved the way for Acid Jazz). Whilst the Americans were in thrall to tinny 80 production, Omar harked back to a golden age- great vocals, beautiful tune and a whole lot of soul. Why he was never able to follow up this hit is a mystery – his recent new album sounds as fresh as those of musicians half his age.
- Roots Manuva – Witness (1 Hope): Part of a strong UK hip-hop scene, Roots Manuva’s lyrics, accent, style and sense of humour mark him out as definitely British. With a backing track that owes more to dub than anything else, this cult classic features lines such as the brilliant: Cause right now, I see clearer than most, I sit here contending with this cheese on toast. Not much bling there – or in the brilliant pastiche by Pitman.
Before anyone starts posting disgusted of Tunbridge Wells type comments, I know that I chose 11 not 10 songs (I struggled to keep it under 20!)
I also have to say that I have excluded all those bands who might be considered part of the British R&B/Blues scene of the 60s, and have only picked 1 song from any particular band, even when you might argue that some should have had 2 in this list.
Why not check out the video for the 5th best British soul song ever and let me know what you think I missed, or songs that shouldn’t be in the top 10 (OK, 11).
Soul II Soul – Back To Life
Lamb marry drum & bass and trip-hop to great effect on the anthemic track Cotton Wool, with a little help from a remix by Fila Brasilia…..
There are certain tunes that define a time & place, and for those who listened to DJs like Gilles Peterson and liked drum & bass in the 90s, the Fila Brasilia remix of Cotton Wool by Lamb is one of them – it completely remade the tune from slightly depressing art-house trip-hop to soulful drum & bass. I’ve never been able to track it down on vinyl, but thanks to the wonder of the internet you can find it as an MP3 quite easily, and you can read about Fila Brasilia’s remix of Cotton Wool by Lamb on Trackfeeder.
I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun by Rotary Connection is one of my favourite songs of all time (it features the beautiful vocals of the wonderful Minnie Ripperton). And the cover of I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun By Nuyorican Soul (New York house Gods Masters at Work working under a pseudonym) is one of my favourite ever cover versions. And just to top it off, the 4hero remix of Nuyorican Soul’s version of I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun is, in my opinion, the best remix ever. ..
Unfortunately I wrote about it for Trackfeeder before I started this blog, so see what I had to say about Nuyorican Soul’s I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun (4hero remix) as there doesn’t seem like much point repeating myself!
And whilst I can’t find anywhere that has the 4hero remix, why not listen to the original cover by Nuyorican Soul (if an original cover isn’t an oxymoron…
Nuyorican Soul – I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun