Love Saves The Day
Shop Around … part 30
I love TK Maxx. I don’t suppose for one moment that’s a particularly cool thing to say. But, yup, I do like a look round TK Maxx to see what’s hidden away. I suppose that’s not too exciting, for the whole ethos of this column is about shopping around, finding bargains, buried gems, the overlooked and the unloved.

I haven’t yet confessed this, but I did pop into the TK Maxx just outside Birmingham New Street the other day. I found a pair of PRO-Keds basketball shoes and came away with change from a ten pound note. I suspect they were the last things I needed. I am not even sure if they are a cool thing to have, though I am even less sure I care. Lots of people seem to be wearing Converse All-Stars this summer, so PRO-Keds seem a little different. And they were mentioned a lot in Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude. I found a pair of Simple originals a few weeks ago for only a little bit more in my local branch. I had forgotten they even existed, but they are great.

The music they play in my local branch intrigues me. I have decided I want to be the person who sits and sources these compilations. Actually they do pretty well. They seem to have a soft spot for that Badly Drawn Boy song I love but can never remember its name. It sounds a bit like 'Flowers' by Hurrah! - although of course that sounds like Pentangle. And I love it when they’re playing 'Sunshine Day' by Osibisa. It just makes you break out in a great big grin, which is no bad thing.

There’s been a lot of talk this week about great London songs. Ones that capture a particular something about our Capital, like the Kinks and so on. And there’s the more esoteric ones, like 'Gabrielle' by the Nips, where Shane sings of taking the 73 to the city, “you sitting there looking so pretty, and though you never once gave it away, I can still remember those crazy days. In the old West End everybody was dancing …” But I would say 'Sunshine Day' is a great London song too.

Osibisa was formed in the early ‘70s by a couple of guys who came to London from Ghana, and as a collective they produced a string of great records throughout the ‘70s, of which 'Sunshine Day' is the most well known and joyous, mixing up African funk with all sorts of other influences. At times they out wah-ed War, or were funkier than Fela, or more wonderful than Oneness of Juju. And looking at the copy of Tim Lawrence’s Love Saves The Day I’ve just got Osibisa’s polyrhythms found a home on the more forward and outlooking American dancefloors in the early ‘70s.
I tracked down a copy of that Tim Lawrence book after becoming so immersed in his superb scholarly sleevenotes to the excellent Can You Jack? compilation on Soul Jazz, the overview of Chicago Acid and Experimental House. Also listed in the playlists in Love Saves The Day is Blue Eyed Soul by Biddu, a great defining moment in disco. Biddu too was someone who escaped to London (from Bombay) at the start of the ‘70s to realise a musical vision. Somehow Biddu came to be involved in some of the classic ‘70s pop records, which we may take for granted, but which ultimately deserve to be celebrated. I am thinking of 'Kung Fu Fighting', Tina Charles’ hits, and the return of Jimmy James and the Vagabonds. Some of the most joyous and danceable records ever. Biddu struck gold too on his own, with wonderful tracks like 'Summer of ’42', 'Blue Eyed Sou'l, 'Rain Forest', and 'Northern Dancer' (which did what it said on the tin). These were orchestral pop gems, which mixed blaxploitation soundtrackisms with the heavenly hummable, groove and glide of smooth ‘60s soul. Slightly further down the road he soundtracked the spectacularly daft disco blockbusters The Stud and The Bitch, so you can imagine Biddu doesn’t quite get ten-pages celebrating him in The Wire. But if you get a chance to pick up any of his mid-70s recordings then go for it. They’ll put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. And loving Tina Charles is not a crime.

Loving Andrea Parker is not a crime either. She continues to claim convincingly a place in the pantheon of pop as one of the great outsiders. In the very first Shop Around expedition we drew attention to her Touchin’ Bass label’s compilation, Nobody’s Perfect. Now six months on she has given us Subsidence, another collection of absolutely classic electro gems from the label. Incredibly the label is mining a very rich seam of dark and abstract electronica, which is as edgy and adventurous, forbidding and uplifting as you could ever hope for. The quality is consistently wonderful, and proves how healthy the underground is, thriving away from the media spotlight.

Subsidence features a moonlighting Plaid, and best of all a new Andrea Parker and David Morley collaboration. Morley is as much an enigma as Parker. Years ago he was releasing some of the best electronic music ever, like the lost Tilted set on Apollo in the late ‘90s. It’s almost as much a lost classic as Parker’s own Kiss My Arp on Mo’Wax, which surely must be due for a reappraisal.

What went wrong with Mo’Wax? It seemed to have everything. Then lost it. Collaborator Will Bankhead, who was so responsible for the records looking so right, continues to create covers for Honest Jon’s, like the Junior Dan compilation I got today. Deep roots reggae from the 1970s, it says on the cover, and what better for a gorgeous and absurdly hot summer’s day? Except perhaps Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities 2 on our beloved Kent Records, which will have you dancing around your living room like a right buffoon. It contains 'Sea Shells' by the Charmells, which was on the original Trippin’ On Your Soul vinyl set way back when. In his sleevenotes Ady Croasdell (another great adopted Londoner) quite rightly points out they take a great photo. It’s worth buying the CD alone for their smiles alone. And as Ady says, keep the faith and understanding!

© 2005 John Carney