Category Archives: features

Two hundred years of Paper Recordings

MANCHESTER-based Paper Recordings released some magical and beautiful house music from the mid-Nineties onwards. The label continues to release great music to this day.

This is the story of Paper Recordings, in the words of people who made it happen.

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Life after Fidel

YOU have to search long and hard to find any statues of Fidel Castro in Cuba.

Unlike just about anywhere else you care to mention, consumer advertising was replaced by stirring revolutionary imagery, snappy slogans and useful cultural announcements decades ago.

There is no shortage of statues and images of Castro’s revolutionary compatriot Che Guevara. The iconic stencil-style image based on Alberto Korda’s photograph of Che is everywhere. From murals and T-shirts to tattoos and three-peso notes in Cuban pockets, Che’s black beret, flowing locks and smouldering eyes are never far away.

IMG_3628Cuban kids start the school day by pledging that they “will be like Che”. There’s even a song about Guevara, Hasta Siempre, Commandante that, inevitably, you’ll hear sooner or later.

Similarly, every street corner seems to have statues and memorials to José Martí, the poet and writer who gave a voice to the earliest notions of Cuban independence in the 19th century.

You’ll sometimes see Fidel, wearing his trademark beard and peaked military cap, alongside Che and fellow revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos, on colourful and appropriately heroic murals throughout the island.

Occasionally, there are inspiring quotes from Fidel on roadside hoardings (although many have him eulogising his martyred comrade-in-arms Che). But there’s not a single road named after Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz anywhere in Cuba.

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Martha Reeves

UNLIKE many people who turned up on Berry Gordy’s doorstep when he established the Motown label, Martha Reeves was invited.

Working as a cleaner through the week and performing in clubs at the weekend, Reeves was spotted by Motown A&R man Mickey Stevenson one night in the Twenty Grand in Detroit.

“He gave me a card and said, you have talent, come to Hitsville,” says the formidable Miss Reeves over the phone from her home in Detroit. “He went all over the city, gathering up singers and musicians.”

One of 12 children, Reeves was raised in a god-fearing Alabama family and first sang publicly in her grandfather’s Methodist church after the family moved to Detroit.

It was in Detroit where Reeves fell under the benign influence of her godmother Beatrice.

“She was a woman who took me under her wing and took me to a lot of plays and concerts at the theatre – with my mom’s permission, of course – and I saw Lena Horne when I was about three years old,” remembers Reeves.

“She was so pretty and she was singing the blues. As a child, I couldn’t imagine anyone like her being unhappy, as pretty as she was. And later I was influenced by Della Reese. I saw her in church and she was singing Amazing Grace. The next day I saw her singing one of her songs on TV. I identified with her and she became my role model.”

Attending Northeastern High School alongside Supremes Flo Ballard and Mary Wilson – practicing singing while she washed up in the family kitchen (“the acoustics were good,” she explains) – Reeves was part of the generation whose parents escaped poverty in the South to reap the benefits of contributing to the war effort in the North.

But not everyone was content to work for minimum wage on the Ford Motor Co production line.

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Fear of a black and white planet

I STARTED writing this piece about three years ago. This displays a shockingly shit work ethic, so apologies to everyone I talked to. I am such a lazy arse.

What did John Lennon say? Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. Then again, he also said, Yes Yoko, we will give over an entire floor of the Dakota building to refrigerating your fur coats, laa – so maybe we shouldn’t hold him up as some kind of arbiter of good taste and time-management.

Where was I?

Around the time the 10 Inches Of Fear package came out, I tried to sell a feature to a few of the glossy music-numpty monthlies but they weren’t having any of it – perhaps not so surprising given that it’s all about a collision between two musical big ideas for which they have no great liking in the shape of anarcho-punk and acid house. Their loss.

But I thought I’d do it anyway. Why deprive readers of this blog just because those miserable cunts in London don’t know their arses from their elbows? I set about interviewing as many of the people involved in the project as I could.

Unfortunately, after I’d talked to everyone else, the interview I did over the phone with Mark Wilson from the Mob was blotted out by the dull throb from a lousy landline and I kind of lost all enthusiasm for it. It just began to seem too much like hard work.

I didn’t so much put it on the backburner as wrap it up in a couple of carriers, stick it in a bin bag and bury it at the bottom of the garden.

I eventually got around to giving it another go, though I still couldn’t make out half of what Mark Wilson said.  It’s a bit of an epic one, so I’d make a cup of tea and put your feet up.

Grumpy old punx should also note that I talked to Donna / Honey for quite some time and have plenty more material which didn’t really fit into this piece. I’ll get it together and write all that up at some point in the future.

See you in 2013.

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Five records hiding at the back of my collection that no grown man should own

AGES ago, years in fact, Mr John Eden who does Uncarved suggested I try writing about ten records at the back of my collection that no man should own.  I’ve only just got it together. I lay the blame for my lamentable work-rate squarely at the feet of Margaret Thatcher.

It’s all her fault. Everything.

Without being too much of a ponce about it, there aren’t really many records in my collection that don’t belong there. A lot of the supposedly embarrassing stuff I’ve bought or been given over the years – ELO, Bananarama, Dexy’s, Spyro Gyra and what have you – got lost along the way and was never replaced (unlike the stuff in the Hip Replacement bit of this blog).

And are those bands mentioned above even that embarrassing? I’m not sure they are. I’m probably not the best person to ask. If I ever really knew what ‘cool’ was, you can rest assured that I absolutely do not know now. But I know what I like.

Everything that’s still in my collection is there for a reason, even if it’s just because it has nice cover art. It’s a finely-honed machine. I stand by every single record. Even the ones on K-Tel and Positiva.

Especially the ones on K-Tel and Positiva.

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Overpaid, oversexed and over here

THE first time Charles Gettis came to the UK was as a private in the 91st Airborne Division of the US Army. His first sight of the country came through the early morning November mists covering the vast open spaces of the Greenham Common airbase near Newbury, Berkshire as he stepped out of the belly of a huge USAAF cargo plane onto the tarmac below.

Now long discharged from the army, the 26-year-old Gettis has returned to the UK in an altogether different role, in the guise of his turntablist alter-ego, Deejay Punk-Roc. He’s one of a small group of American DJs who have set up home here to take advantage of the burgeoning club scene which grew up in the wake of the acid house explosion of 1988.

Gettis, working in a series of dead-end jobs after he left the military, found his options severely limited in his home town of Brooklyn. The story goes that Andrew Erskine, the head of Merseyside independent label Airdog, somehow heard Punk-Roc’s self-produced My Beatbox, visited him in Brooklyn and persuaded him that he could make a splash in the UK by promoting his music on the back of his not-inconsiderable DJing skills. He didn’t have to ask twice.

Based in Toxteth, Liverpool since January, Gettis’s gamble has paid off in a big way. He’s been pleasantly surprised by the speed and scale of his success. His debut album Chickeneye was released to almost unanimously positive reviews last month, while he returned to the States to support the Prodigy on a two-week tour.

On his return to the UK, he played a couple of gigs, including one at NY Sushi in Sheffield, before jetting off the a festival in Holland. Next week he releases Far Out, another single from the album. A trip to Japan is scheduled for the autumn. It’s non-stop.

“For some people, what’s happening to me now might be a dream come true, but not for me – cause I never even dreamed it in the first place,” says Gettis as he relaxes in his hotel room after the Sheffield date. “I’ve been making music for as long time, but it was never made to be pressed up and sold to the public. I thought that music was something that other people made and I bought.”

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The Band on the Wall, reborn

THERE are plenty of venues in Manchester that are bigger than the Band on the Wall, and there may even be a few with a higher profile – but none of them can boast the same kind of musical pedigree.

A tavern, pub and venue which, in one form or another has been entertaining successive generations of Mancunians for the best part of 200 years, singing, dancing, drinking and carousing are part of the very fabric of the Band on the Wall.

Indeed, the interior of the newly-refurbished and expanded venue, situated on Swan Street in the city centre, was for much of its life darkly lacquered with nicotine stains, spilled drinks, more than a little shoe-leather and the sweat from the brows of a thousand dancers, lovingly reapplied over the course of decades.

For some, this only enhanced the gritty authenticity of the venue. For others, attracted by a uniquely visionary and diverse live music programme, it was a case of holding your nose and tiptoeing around the Band on the Wall’s flooded nether regions. Either way, the building’s deficiencies were beginning to get in the way of the entertainment it offered and it finally closed its doors in 2005, with a promise to return bigger and better at some undefined point in the future.

Four years later, the gleaming venue is preparing to open its doors once again.

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