WRITTEN BY RANSOM NOTE – OCTOBER 2014
Most interviews that you’ll come across will feature a question along the lines of ‘what was your inspiration for this?’. Instead of following convention, we decided that it was best to let Greg Wilson loose to talk about 10 things that inspired the ‘Blind Arcade Meets Super Weird Substance In The Morphogenetic Field’ mixtape (available to stream / download below) in anticipation of the final show in a series of ‘Super Weird Happenings, taking place at Oslo in London on Saturday 1st November. Blind Arcade are the new band fronted by Kermit Leveridge (formerly of Black Grape and the Ruthless Rap Assassins), whilst Super Weird Substance is Greg’s label. Here’s the list of the factors that sparked the inspiration for the project:
The comic book writer, or should I say THE comic book writer. His work includes ‘Watchmen’, ‘V For Vendetta’, ‘From Hell’, ‘Promethea’, ‘League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen’, ‘Lost Girls’ etc. etc. etc. This is a prolific artist and a modern day sage – someone Kermit was trying to get me into a quarter of a century ago, during the period of our previous collaborations, when he was a member of the Ruthless Rap Assassins and I was their producer / manager. I wasn’t a comic reader, so I missed the moment, but caught up big style when I finally ‘discovered’ Alan Moore’s work a few years ago, and, as is my way, embarked on my obsessive embroilment in his work. This includes the 2003 documentary film, ‘The Mindscape Of Alan Moore’, where he talks about his life and career, whilst explaining some of his magical ideas and observations (Moore declared himself to be a magician 20 years ago, on turning 40). It’s here where I heard the term ‘super weird substance’ – quantum physics jargon for information – which, after much searching, was the name I fixed on for the label, the phrase ‘information is a super weird substance’ sampled before ‘It’s A Strange World (Let’s Keep It Like That)’ on the mixtape.
In ‘The Mindscape Of’ Moore also talks about making ‘a fool’s leap’, which has been a guiding principle in setting sail on this new musical odyssey:
“Quitting my day job and starting my life as a writer was a tremendous risk. It was a fool’s leap, a shot in the dark, but anything of any value in our lives – whether that be a career, a work of art, a relationship – will always start with such a leap. And in order to be able to make it you have to put aside the fear of failing and the desire of succeeding.”
Howard, aka ‘Mr Nice’, author and once international cannabis smuggler, is big mates with Kermit, and recorded his poem ‘Lies And Other Fools’, which was pressed up as a single sided 7” to announce the launch of Super Weird Substance via a ‘Vinyl Happening’ at Manchester’s Dry Bar on Record Store Day 2014. Howard graced us with his presence returning to the venue that, following his release from jail in the US and the subsequent publication of ‘Mr Nice’, which would go on to become a bestseller, was the location of his very first book reading. When we chose Dry for the event we had absolutely no idea that this was the case – sheer serendipity.
Howard also appears on the mixtape, reciting a biblical passage from ‘Genesis’ as the prelude to ‘Universal Prayer’, an ode to the green stuff. This is in contrast to ‘Lies And Other Fools’, which symbolically drew a line under Kermit’s murky heroin addicted past.
The relatively small Caribbean island that, via its unique musical heritage, became a world champion heavyweight, spreading it’s bass culture throughout the globe, having unleashed Ska, Rock Steady, Reggae and Dub throughout the 60’s and 70’s, with its most celebrated son, Bob Marley, becoming a huge source of inspiration for people worldwide.
Jamaica, of course, has close historic links with the UK, and many of the black immigrants who settled in Britain post World War II came from the island. These included Kermit’s parents, so although he’s very much a Manchester lad, he has JA blood flowing through his veins. With this in mind it’s no surprise that these musical influences provide a key ingredient of the mixtape, most notably via ‘Red Stripe And A Spliff’, ‘Under My Nose’ and ‘Hold My Hand’. The title of the mixtape is also a tip of the hat to the quintessential Dub LP ‘King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown’, released by Augustus Pablo in 1976.
Although I’d heard of Beat Generation poet / comedian Lord Buckley, who died before the 60’s had barely got underway, I’d never properly checked him out until reading about the great Roger Eagle, a DJ right at the foundation of UK dance culture via his residency at Manchester’s legendary R&B club The Twisted Wheel, where he first stood behind the decks in 1963 (he would also be a key force in Liverpool’s resurgence during the late 70’s / early 80’s when he ran one of the city’s most influential venues, Eric’s).
A ‘hipster bebop preacher who defied all labels’, as Bob Dylan described him, Lord Buckley made a huge impression on Eagle, who often included his wonderful monologues on the lovingly compiled cassettes he put together for friends and fellow music enthusiasts. It’s a section from perhaps his most celebrated ‘jive poem’, ‘The Nazz’ (a hip take on the story of Jesus Of Nazareth), that appears on the mixtape, not once, but twice. It first pops up at the end of ‘Crazy Shit’, where I sampled it from a Funk documentary that included an interview with Sly & The Family Stone’s trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, who, talking about when she first came across Sly Stone in the psychedelic San Francisco of the mid-60’s, when he was a radio DJ, gives her rendition of a jingle that he used to play on the show; ‘and I dig all you cats (and kitties) out there whippin’ and wailin’ and jumpin’ up and down and suckin’ up all that fine juice…’. It’s also reprised – this time the Lord Buckley original – between ‘Under My Nose’ and ‘The Glue’.
As I was putting the finishing touches to the mixtape I heard the news that Maya Angelou, the Afro-American author, poet and civil rights activist, who had also danced, sang and acted in her younger years, had passed away. My wife and SWS partner Tracey emailed me a YouTube clip of Angelou reciting her famous poem ‘And Still I Rise’, and, once I’d watched it, I immediately sampled a couple of sections of dialogue – this would be the final addition to the mixtape, and a fitting conclusion.
The first section, where she’s setting the tone for the poem, talking about how everyone in the world has at some point suffered fear, pain, loss or disappointment, but had managed to overcome their setbacks, was something that slotted in perfectly at the start of ‘Striving’, adding to the poignancy of the track. It’s a special moment on the mixtape, at the start of side 2, with just her voice and those haunting keys – the words of a wise woman, a mother figure, adding a fresh gravitas to a track that deals with human struggle and indomitable will in adversity.
As the final track ‘Shine On’ is reaching its conclusion, I added a verse from the poem:
You can shoot me with your words,
You can cut me with your lies,
You can kill me with your hatefulness,
But just like life, I’ll rise.
Whilst talking about his theory of ‘ideaspace’, Alan Moore likened it to parapsychologist Rupert Sheldrake’s description of ‘morphic resonance’, which has proved so controversial within the scientific community, leading to Sheldrake’s claims being dismissed as pseudoscience by many of his contemporaries. We’d originally toyed with the title ‘Blind Arcade Meets Super Weird Substance In Ideaspace’, but ‘Morphogenetic Field’ flowed better.
Without attempting to go into it, Sheldrake tells us that morphic resonance is to do with formative causation – an evolutionary process where self-organizing systems in nature inherit a memory from similar systems, with links to Carl Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’.
More recently Sheldrake was at the center of a censorship row when his TED talk was removed from their YouTube channel after scientific advisers questioned its validity.
Sheldrake is sampled twice on the mixtape – at the end of ‘Swamp Thang’ (the final track on Side 1) and at the end of ‘Shine On’ (final track on side 2).
Planetary is a comic series by Warren Ellis, which Kermit is big into. To understand Kermit you have to realize that comics are in his DNA, and this helps him make sense of the world around him and his place within it – his thoughts often processed via comic book concepts. The title ‘It’s A Strange World (Let’s Keep It Like That)’ provides a perfect example of this, for it’s derived from ‘it’s a strange world, let’s keep it that way’, a favourite frame from Planetary.
I couldn’t resist getting on the vibe, juxtaposing into the track a sound bite from the David Lynch directed dark classic ‘Blue Velvet’, where the main character Jeffery exclaims to his girlfriend ‘it’s a strange world, isn’t it?’
THE KLF: CHAOS, MAGIC AND THE BAND WHO BURNED A MILLION POUNDS
Written by John Higgs, and published in 2012, this is a remarkable read, and something I haven’t stopped banging on about since I devoured it earlier this year. Entertaining and absorbing, it gets right into the marrow of the often seemingly insane obsessions that can drive artists, in this case Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, who had huge international success in the late 80’s and early 90’s with The Timelords, The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu and, of course, The KLF, before shocking many a sensibility, under the banner of the K Foundation, by burning a million quid on a remote Scottish isle, a spectacular act of reckless prankster expression that has dogged them to this day.
Although The KLF provide the central thread of the narrative, it’s against a background of Discordianism and Situationism, with Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s 1975 epic fiction ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’ a book that opened a pandora’s box of conspiracy theory that reverberates through until this day – with many people nowadays peddling these once fantasies as fact in another example of life imitating art.
Higgs’s book contains a stellar cast of interconnecting characters including Carl Jung, JFK, Doctor Who, Ken Campbell and Alan Moore. It’s a modern day mythos, richly rewarding in symbolism, and unlike any music book you’ve ever read before. Its key association with Liverpool makes it especially apt that we have John Higgs himself joining us for the ‘in conversation’ section of our Super Weird Happening in the city on October 18th.
The mixtape references the book via the ‘Donnie Darko’ dialogue at the start of ‘Swamp Thang’ – the connections to ‘Donnie Darko’ entwining Echo And The Bunnymen (who Bill Drummond once managed and who appear on the soundtrack) and Drummond’s Rabbit God, Echo (evoked in the film via Frank), along with the ‘money burning’ passage from Graham Greene’s short story, ‘The Destructors’.
THE SUMMERS OF LOVE
Both ‘summers of love’ – the original Hippie high point of ’67, as well as the later Acid House version (which in fact spanned 2 summers, 1988 and ’89), were sources of inspiration. We wanted to re-connect to the creative energy of those times, when the possibilities were wide open and the rulebooks were thrown up in the air.
Although there was no plan to gear the music specifically in this direction (there are probably as many 70’s references on the mixtape as there are 60’s), the fact that both Psychedelic and Balearic have since been used on a number of occasions, not by ourselves but by others. in describing the contents of the mixtape, serves to confirm the presence of these influences, conscious or not.
It was only on its completion that we noticed the connection in spirit and vibe to one of the pivotal albums of the Acid House era – the flower power Hip Hop of De La Soul’s ‘3 Feet High And Rising’, a true burst of technicolor rhyme from 1989. The mixtape’s Anglo-Jamaican sensibility gives it its own unique flavour, but that De La Soul evocation is undeniable at times, subliminal as it was. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the mixtape arrived exactly 25 summers on from ‘3 Feet High’.
I suppose the first summer of love is most prevalent in Dominic Mandrell’s artwork for the mixtape, with the hooded man image adapted from Bonnie MacLean’s poster design for an August ‘67 gig at the Fillmore in San Francisco – the psychedelic city’s most fabled venue.
Xian Moonbeam is the daughter of Kermit and partner Amanda Moonbeam, born during the recording sessions for the mixtape and the muse for ‘Damn! It’s Good To Be Alive’ and ‘Those Stars’.
The latter was written while Xian was still in the womb, the initial lyrics directly referring to the then unborn child and her imminent arrival, before they were re-written in a more ambiguous way. By contrast, Kermit wrote his words for ‘Damn! It’s Good To Be Alive’ following her birth, when he had just got back from the hospital.
Kermit had sent me a recording Xian’s heartbeat from when she was still womb bound, which I added at the end of the mixtape – it’s the final thing you hear, following Rupert Sheldrake’s words about morphogenesis as ‘the coming into being of form’.