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Off The Page: A further digression #4

Tony Herrington

Once you've popped 'n' locked to this obscure slice of early 80s Transatlantic electro-soul, check for the credits, which harbour an unlikely link to one of the events happening at the Off The Page festival this weekend (and I don't mean Dave Tompkins's talk on the history of the vocoder: the track might be a prime slice of cyborg funk, but all the silicon synthesis is in the low end; the vocals remain strictly carbon-based).

Anyway, back to those credits: edited by Double Dee & Steinski, produced and engineered by Adrian Sherwood, mixed by Sherwood and Tom (Tommy Boy) Silverman, issued by Body Rock Records, a subsiduary of Tommy Boy itself, the original channel for technologized R&B. So far so good. But what's that? Hmm, a familiar looking name in the writers' credits. 'S Beresford'. Could it really be? You bet your life it could. But who'd'a thunk it? We all knew he was the nutty professor of Brit reggae, Adrian Sherwood's go-to guy whenever the On-U Sound boss needed some strange sonics or oblique strategies to goose up his latest bass odyssey. But Steve Beresford, the Everywhere Man of UK Improv, a playa in the emergence of boogie down fonk? You couldn't make it up.

This YouTube post is another nugget unearthed by the consistently dazzling Your Heart Out blog. I'm going to write about the blog in the Unofficial Channels column of the forthcoming April issue of The Wire. But for now, download Skimming Stones, the latest YHO post. It's a derive in the form of an essay through some of the dimly-lit back streets and alleyways of London’s late 70s/early 80s reggae underground (a favourite site of investigation for YHO) which along the way notes Beresford's presence at the intersection of any number of the capital’s contemporaneous sonic subcultures: LMC messthetix, subversive chart pop entryism, post-punk aktion, and of course, the alternative universe that orbited around the On-U Sound label.

At Off The Page Steve will be talking with John Keiffer (of the festival's co-producers Sound And Music) about a life lived in the thick of London's Improv scene. But one aspect of the Improv aesthetic that is not much acted or commented on these days is the way it enabled a musician like Beresford to operate almost at will across a whole host of musical activities that received wisdom still tells us were mutually exclusive – "to play, inspire, provoke and create,” as Steve Barker once put it. The same applies to David Toop, of course, another Off The Page guest, who in the period immediately following punk rock's year zero partnered Beresford in any number of audacious border-crossing sonic endeavours, from Alterations to General Strike, The Flying Lizards to Prince Far-I's Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter 3.

It all feels a long time ago now. But so what? As Michael Chion tells Dan Warburton during his Invisible Jukebox interview in the new March issue of The Wire: "When I like something, I don't think of it as being from 1968 or 1980 or whenever. It's the present, for me." And for me, listening to Akabu’s "Watch Yourself” (or any of the many other records that Beresford, or indeed Toop, appeared on during the same period), the distant past suddenly materialises in the here and now to sound as immediate as any present you might care to mention.

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