Monday, July 16, 2012

Green is good - in praise of Scritti Politti

There is a school of thought that much of the music made in the 1980s sounds awfully ‘of its time’ here and now, because it was created on the first wave of polyphonic synthesisers and drum machines. The sound of boom-boom-bap with EQ up the wazoo. Forget about the song, just make it sound big. As a drummer myself, I confess that I succumbed to the lure of the drum machine on one recording in 1984, because I thought it had to sound like ‘I Feel For You’ to pass muster with my peers. I was probably right at the time, but ever since then I have despised music made without ‘proper’ drums. With one exception - Scritti Politti.

I can honestly say I love just about everything Scritti have ever done. I thought The Sweetest Girl  should have been a massive hit in the early 80s. I can still remember the thrill of hearing Wood Beez  for the first time on Anne Nightingale’s Sunday night show in 1984. Green Gartside’s collaborations with Mos Def and Queen Latifah produced some highly convincing rap rock on Anomie & Bonhomie. And on all of his albums of the last thirty years, Green has produced several captivatingly beautiful love songs. Exhibit one: ‘Brushed with oil, dusted with powder’. It's a production job, for sure, but beautifully and soulfully executed.

They don’t play live much. Green is not the most relaxed performer and it would clearly be a struggle to recreate the sound of the records. But they do a remarkable job considering, in the few gigs they have played in recent years. Green's musical accomplice Rhodri Marsden is surrounded by laptops and keyboard kit he has painstakingly programmed with the original parts. And most remarkable of all, Green really does sing like that in real life; no studio trickery needed.

As luck would have it, while I was in London in December 2007, I saw Scritti were playing one show at the Luminaire, a small club on Kilburn High Road. It was two weeks before Christmas. Green, sporting a red check shirt and Grizzly Adams beard, had decided it would be a Christmas party. So he arranged for each band member to choose their favourite book to be sent out into the crowd as a ‘pass the parcel. When the music stopped, another layer of wrapping could be removed. They passed out mince pies.

On his last album, ‘White Bread Black Beer’ Green showed he didn’t need the production genius of Arif Mardin to craft music of depth and imagination. He obviously has a store of great music still to release as he played quite a few of them at the Luminaire. He admits to finding it hard to finish songs, so we just have to wait patiently to hear what’s next from the sweet voiced Mr. Gartside.
 Scritti Politti - 'The Sweetest Girl', live at the Luminaire club in December 2007. 
I also filmed them playing 'Merry Christmas Baby', and 'Robin Hood' from the White Bread Black Beer  album. Click on the 'My Videos' button to view them.

This post originally appeared on The Word magazine blog on 16 January 2010. I have re-posted it today in honour of the final shut down of that blog. The conversation continues at a new site   www.

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