Thursday, 26 July 2012

Leaving on a Jet Plane

34 hours of travelling.

That’s how long it took to get back home from East Africa. Usually my travel time would have been broken up between bouts of movie watching and sleeping while listening to my iPod on the plane. This however did not happen on my trip home as my iPod was stolen the night before I left Nairobi.

Gutted is not the word I would use.

During my trip home I thought about what I would be listening to and at what stage I would listen to the music. I had all these dreams of sliding back into my seat and drifting off to Sly & the Family Stone from Nairobi to Dubai and then while walking around Dubai airport banging out to some Sepultura. Dubai to Sydney would be a mixture of Nina Simone, Soundgarden, The Rollins Band and Mos Def, While coming back Sydney through to Auckland would consist of Tiki Taane and Zane Lowe’s Breaks Co-op. Good ol’ Kiwi sounds.

Sadly it was not to be.

The aside factor of not having my iPod made me start thinking of trips taken when I was younger – Road trips with the boys and what we listened to. This also is the topic for this blog.
Growing up on the East Coast of New Zealand was one of the greatest things in the world. You have everything at your fingertips; Beaches, Mountains, Cities and farms - Paradise on earth as far as I am concerned. During and after high school I had many trips to these places and road trips both north and south with the guys to some great locations. Music played a major role in all of these getaways.

Danzig’s self-titled debut was a huge aspect of these trips and played a major part in several of these boy’s only drives. Whether it was to the beach or off to Wellington for the weekend that album got played a hell of a lot to the point that the cassette could not handle it anymore and disintegrated. One of the greatest albums I have ever heard to this day. Glen Danzig’s booming dark voice with a slight Mick Jagger twist had a feel to it that really made you want to listen. The more mellow songs like ‘Mother’ to the angrier ‘Twist of Cain’ scoured my memory for life as the good times they were.
Rewinding a few years earlier when I was still living at home, I had purchased ‘The Trip 3’ of the alternative Trip series. Hugely popular at the time in the early 90’s and was a definite forerunner in introducing new bands to fanboys like myself. I always waited in anticipation for the new 'Trips' to come out.
Even though 'The Trip 1' was the best of the 9 that came out - 'The Trip 3' was the one that sticks in my mind the most. This album was used most on the car trips we took and even though it was by far not the best if the series it had a certain style. From Afghan Whigs to Nick Cave and Therapy? to Mudhoney. It made the best rides to the beach get us ready for a surf or trip to mates south get us in the mood for getting our party on.

My travelling music is very important to me and when I am without said music, it pains me. Imagine 34 hours of having to sit through not being able to listen to my own playlists and sounds.

What are your sounds that you listen to when you travel? I would be very interested to know?

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Bringing The Ruckus

I was never good at mathematics. I wasn't a bad student, I was actually quite capable and managed to pass all classes I took, that is, except for the numbers game. For some reason it never caught on and made me feel like a 4 foot point guard in Basketball. I just couldn't quite grab the ball.

However through hard work I started discovering the world of maths and due to a chance encounter in 1995 with a classmate, maths became my favourite subject. I used to sit at the back of the class close to the window so I could look out over the school field and see what the other Physical Education classes were up to. A guy named Matt always sat beside me and I think he had the same idea I did as the droll curriculum did not enthuse either of us. Matt always had his Walkman on during most classes and had rigged his headphones up so the cord went up his jersey, down his sleeve and held one ear piece in his hand and then lent on his desk with his hand up to his ear. A very ingenious idea and he never got caught.

It was during one of these classes that I asked Matt what he was listening to. He replied to me "Hip Hop". I asked "Who?" He said "The Wu-Tang Clan" - 36 Chambers. I never would of picked Matt for someone who listened to Chinese Music and was impressed at his worldly views. He then put the ear piece up to my ear and on that March day in 1995 my whole life changed forever.
Dramatic huh?!

I had only heard limited Hip Hop and apart from Public Enemy, Ice Cube and an emerging Bone Thugs n Harmony I was fairly new into the rap world ( There was also a small Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer affliction a few years earlier - Don't judge me ) This new sound was street, rugged and dirty. The vocals were grimy and the beats that held the rhymes together were unfamiliar but were intense and heavy. The play on the Martial Arts movies also appealed and I instantly became a fan.

I started listening to all things WU and the solo artists. GZA, RZA, Method ManRaekwon the Chef and Ghostface Killah were all in my CD player. Nothing since NWA in the early 90's had really grabbed the youth of the day and created a following almost instantly as this. I wanted WU posters, WU wear, WU music. Hell, if they had WU paste, That is what I would of been brushing my teeth with. They were a bunch of guys who you told how it was on the street. New York Style. Completely different to NWA and the sound was like nothing I had ever heard of. I was sold. As your average white boy into urban hip hop ( remember Eminem was still at least 7 years away. ) it was hard to fit into the mould and it was not like you could walk down the street singing "Shame on a N****a or "Wu Tang Clan ain't nuthing ta F**k wit". I had brought a red and black WU jacket which I loved much to the disdain of my brother. He was not the biggest rap fan at the time and he did not approve of the jacket at all. We had many discussions that ended with both of us taking the piss out of each other.Him taking the piss out of me due to my musical appreciation and me taking the piss out of him because he loved Kenny Rogers. Go figure.

Wu Tang changed the music industry and turned the group into a business. It was one of the first of many and you saw happen almost over night with Puff Daddy and Bad Boy Enterprises, Jay Z a few years later with Rocafella and Surge Knight with Deathrow Records.

I already had a love for Cypress Hill ( which will forever last until the day I die ) Public Enemy and NWA so to add another band to the stable was easy for me to do as I felt they all went hand in hand.

But believe it or not it was The Wu Tang Clan that got me into 60's motown and 70's R&B. If it was not for them I would not have an appreciation for Gladys Knight & The Pips, Aretha Franklin, Theolonius Monk, The JB's, Hall & Oates ( No, really ) and Zapp. All these were sampled on that one album ( Enter The Wu Tang - 36 Chambers ) and that is the reason why my musical diversity flourished in the Hip Hop world. It was not because of the bands/groups/artists that I was listening to, It was the Bands/groups/artists that I was indirectly listening to. These were the foundations of Hip Hop and who these artists were influenced by. Now they were influencing a new generation.

GZA ( founding member of Wu Tang Clan ) released an album in 96' entitled Liquid Swords. This album without a doubt would be in my top 5 albums of all time. If anyone takes anything away from this blog, take this:

Listen to the album, listen to the words, listen to the beats.

Just listen. It may just change your life...................


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Not In My League

Once my primary schooling was finished and I moved onto Intermediate ( Middle school for the Americans out there ) I ended up in what can only be called musical purgatory. The big problem was I was not the most popular guy at school ( coming from a school out of the area and not knowing anyone didn't help ) I tended to keep to myself and had a small arrangement of friends that I hung around with. Needless to say my musical growth was stunted for a period while I tried to regain control of my life - both socially and mentally.
I found myself hanging out with older kids outside of school and I started hearing new music that I was not familiar with. One of the most prolific of these was Old School English Punk. A family friend had introduced me to a band called 'The Anti-Nowhere League' and it was like nothing I had ever heard before. The guitaring was erratic, the drumming was sloppy, the lyrics were poor and not very intelligent and the bass guitarist.....Well, don't get me started. But somehow it worked. It worked really well. The tune was catchy and easy to bounce to and the rhyming of the lyrics with the music was solid. The first song of theirs I heard was 'We are The League' which was amazingly brutal yet catchy. If you watch the link, you can understand why Mrs Taylor our music teacher turned the song off half way through when it was my turn to play a song in music class. Punk music opened up a whole new world to me and I was digging it. Then came Peter & The Test Tube Babies and as much as they were pretty cool to listen to, they were banned due to the lyrics and content of there songs. Never really thought about it much back then but now I can fully understand. They were pretty horrendous. I still remember the first time I heard The Dead Kennedy's and all that changed. Politically anti establishment and in pursuit of the Freedom of Speech. They embodied so much of what a band that rebelled against society should be that I really started paying attention to what the lyrics of the songs were actually about. Check out 'Holiday in Cambodia and California Uber Alles' or check out this interview below on Oprah with Jello Biafra ( lead singer of Dead Kennedy's ) and Tipper Gore - The lady responsible for the infamous "Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics" sticker.

Punk music opened my eyes to the world and put things in a whole new light. The world was not just about "Giving love a bad name"  and "Dancing on the Ceiling" or happy hippy pop songs. There was a real feeling of underlying angst in the world, people were not happy and they sang about it. I started looking at protest songs and what and why they were sung. Pretty heavy stuff for a 13 year old to get into but it was something that really threw me. Tracy Chapmans' "Behind the Wall" was a great song and the lyrics really put domestic violence into the mainstream., Peter Gabriel's "Biko" about the Anti Apartheid campaigner who died in police custody and one of my all time favourite protest groups is Public Enemy. The song 'Burn Hollywood Burn' off the album Fear of a Black Planet is by far and away one of the best about white capitalisation of the entertainment industry and the portrayal of African Americans in the movie industry.
By the time I was at High School in 1992 a new type of music had descended the musical realms for protest. Rage Against The Machine - If you were angry, or felt like you had been mistreated by parents and teachers then this was the band to listen to. I still remember the first time I heard this band. I was in Social Studies and while the teacher was out ( which he frequently was ) a school mate pulled his Walkman out and told me to have a listen. The song was 'Know Your Enemy" . 2 words: Blown Away. This anger and injustice from the 60's had re risen to take a new form of aggressive metal. Protest music had a new voice and it was LOUD! ( footnote: Who would of thought that the next big protest band would be The Dixie Chicks? WTF?! )

Music to me now had a point, a focus and a reason. It was showing me the world and how we live, it disguised itself in everyday arenas and quietly helped itself to the subconscious.

Music was teaching me.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Eating cornflakes with George

Not many people remember the first song they downloaded off the Internet. Almost everyone remembers the very first album they ever got though. I find this funny.
However who can remember the very first song that stuck with them? Go back and think. What is the first song you remember? Not what your mother used to sing to you but what you actually remember hearing on the radio or television.

Interesting huh?

Being young and only really being fascinated by bright colours, cartoons and trampolines, music was not a thing that would of been noticed for me. I was too busy playing on the gym, running around the farm and watching TV to even take any notice. Your consciousness plays funny tricks on you and then one day. Blam! It hits you like a stone and you sit up and take notice. So when I think back to when I was young and songs that affected me growing up, there were a few that really stick in my mind as a child.

I remember my very first song. Almost like it was yesterday. It was 1984 and I was 5 years old. Living in Australia in a town called Lismore in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales. I was staying at my Grandmothers house and recall waking up one morning and going out to the kitchen table to have my daily dose of cornflakes and to watch Masters of the Universe on TV. In the kitchen was an old grey Phillips radio that could play one tape in the centre and it sat on the window sill. My dad switched the radio on and out belted 'Karma Chameleon' by The Culture Club. The tune was catchy, the new romantic style was electric and the lyrics were easy to sing to.

Now a lot of people would be thinking what a flakey song, To be fair, it is. But it broke alot of records at the time. The lead Singer Boy George or George Allan O'Dowd as his mum referred to him was a bit of a legend already in the London music scene and had sung with a few previous bands and hung out with Malcolm McLaren ( No relation ). They were the first band to have 3 top 5 hits in the US and UK at the same time on their debut album since The Beatles and then they followed that up with there second album 'Colour By Numbers' and repeated the feat. Not bad for flakey.

Now I have gone off track a little............

Anyway, this has started me thinking about first times and experiences and what music was playing when big events occurred in my life. So you know the first song I remember was Karma Chameleon and you know my first album was Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi ( if you read my first blog ), but what else indirectly affected me growing up? When mum and dad broke up, I remember a lot of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Carole King. I used to love listening to Frankie Goes To Hollywood and especially the album Welcome to the Pleasuredome. The first side of that cassette was gold. 2 tribes, Relax, The World is my Oyster. Such a great band and like The Petshop Boys was well ahead of its time. I wanted the "Frankie Says" T-shirt and I used to dance around the living room to the album.  Thankfully once I saw the video to Relax ( as linked above ) I decided to look elsewhere for my musical influences as I knew that sort of thing was not my cup of tea.
Carole King on the other hand was the consumate 'Mother Music' and almost every housewife and working mother had the LP of Tapestry. Mum listened to this album all the time like it spoke to her and gave her some sort of cathartic release from her daily grind. God, I got sick of that album!! Years later I actually brought the CD for mum for Mothers Day and like a good son copied it onto my iTunes before handing it on. Now that I was older, I could appreciate the songs and the writing and it is a really good album.I also must admit she is/was a fantastic songwriter and in her day a decent looker too.

In 1985 I has turned 7 and was discovering not only my love for all things rugby but music had distinctly taken a major part in my life. Sitting in the lounge on a Sunday afternoon in what I believe was a relatively warm winter and seeing all these bands playing on the television. My mother getting excited because some famous band by the name of Led Zeppelin had reunited for this thing called Live Aid and there were lots of other singers, rockers and rollers amongst them. I can recall it like it was yesterday seeing Mick Jagger strutting around on stage with Tina Turner singing 'Its only Rock n Roll ( But I like it )' Ahhh the memories.
Around this time in school I met lots of interesting characters but none really who connected to me on a musical level. There was one girl named Penelope who had a similar taste in music as me ( in saying this I was 7 or 8 and only had one tape ) so we used to sit in the classroom bays at school and discuss our favourite Bon Jovi songs. She was pretty much the first actual 'Girl' friend I ever had and I was pretty sweet to her when she was around. I always wondered what ever happened to her?

This will be a bit of a continued theme over the next few posts so bear with me people as I am actually building to quite a specific point about things. In the mean time let me know what the first song you remember is or even your first album.

Until next time guys take care and rock on \m/ \m/

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Repeating The Future: A journey Through Life

Shaping a Future Through Music

How does one start ones blog? Indeed how does one start ones life?

I know how my life started. I know how my life has gone for the last 33 odd years. The question is where will I end up? Who will I meet? What will I be wearing?

I invented cuteness
To give you an insight of how I am programmed - I am the son of your ordinary New Zealand single parent working class family. You know the kind - 2 kids, a cat and a mother who works hard to keep her kids fed and clothed all the while instilling in them the rights and wrongs of the world. Growing up in a city and farming backdrop I was happy in the knowledge that I would make my way in the world and be a success. I mean it looked easy. Alex P. Keaton could do it. Right?

There are certain memories that shaped my childhood and made everlasting impressions on me and I do believe changed the way I looked at the world not only then but also now and into the future. Memories of playing rugby on a frosty morning in bare feet, dagging a sheep for the first time, seeing a naked girl for the first time, eating too much sugar ( I am referring to the coconut ice incident of March 85' but that is another story ) and getting my very first cassette tape. Music has always been an outlet for me. Ever since I can remember our house always had music playing in it. Whether it was the Disco punk tunes of Grace Jones, The musical poetry of Queen or the feminist groanings of Carole King, we always had it around us. So you can imagine my delight when in 1986 I was asked "what do you want for Christmas?" Well I didn't want a new bike or the latest Transformer or other repetitive Hasbro product, No. I wanted what everyone wanted that year. I wanted 'Slippery When Wet' by Bon Jovi!

My Bon Jovi days
This album was my first. It was my own. It was my precious. I listened to it in the morning, The afternoon, in the evening and made my mother play it in our orange 76' Vauxhall Chevette. I think I drove everyone mental with my insatiable need to listen, sing and dance to this album. But like every kid with a new toy, you see what the others have and you immediately want it. I slowly grew jealous of my younger brother who also chose an album to be dropped in by Santa on his way past our house. He had received the sterling album 'Diesel & Dust' by Midnight Oil. I still even now can remember the first time I heard the blasting trumpets on 'Bed's are Burning' and the haunting whisper of the Bullroarer at the start of the song by the same name. It still to this day takes me back to growing up in the outback of the backblocks of NSW, Australia, pre 1984. I really believed that this was the album that changed my life and opened my world to music. Apart from rugby ( which was mandatory in our household ) music became everything to me.

21 years old and well and truly a music fan
Now I am not going to bore you with my pre-adolescent years and all the horrible music I listened to from Bobby Brown to Kid n Play to Vanilla Ice. No I will fast forward to when I was being brainwashed by teenage girls into listening to New Kids On The Block. This was an impressionable time for me and I was trying to fit in with the older kids. The problem was - I actually didn't mind the music. It was around this time the older brother of said teenage girls started feeling sorry for me and let me hang out in his room. He was the typical cool guy with the surfboard and models of 1960's cars. He shared his room with his brother and each were into their own music - One side covered in alternative rock posters, the other Iron Maiden and AC/DC. I looked around the room for something familiar and was instantly drawn to the vinyl cover poster of Midnight Oil's Diesel & Dust album. A talking point at least. It was through this connection that we got onto other musical subjects and a cassette was placed in my hands. At the time I was happy that I was getting anything from this 'Cool Guy' but I did not realise the connotation of the gesture or what I actually held in my hands. It was only years later that I realised what this 17 year old guy who played the drums and embodied all that was cool had actually given me. 'Mothers Milk' By The Red Hot Chili Peppers. This started a thirst for all things rock, roll and funky for the next 22 years and beyond. I had never heard anything like it. The melodies, the horns, the funky bass, the weird lyrics. It was genius on so many levels that even now I still listen to that album. It pushed me to find more music, more information about music, learn about music, immerse myself in music. I was becoming music.

24 years old in my own personal music revolution
I still remember my first job. Real job. I was a milk run boy in the Hastings western suburb of Flaxmere. I got paid pretty well. This meant I finally had an income that was expendable. My music collection started increasing. Firstly the back catalogue of The Red Hot's, Next came Fishbone and Suicidal Tendencies, Wu Tang Clan and Jane's Addiction. I was addicted. I was out of control. I was mainlining at the music store. I was buying albums of bands I had never heard of but if the cover looked cool it was purchased. I loved being able to walk in and be on first name basis with the guys who worked there. I reckon I would of been close to their best customer. By now it became so bad that an intervention was done by my mother about saving and buying something big. She was right. I still remember the first time I plugged in my Technics separate components system ( I think she had something like a car in mind ). It was loud. So loud. It lasted 17 years before it was sold at a garage sale. I was so tempted to keep it. Needs must through...........

Moving on I delved into the horrible scene of nu metal for which i still shiver at the thought of. Rage against the Machine may have started it with its rap/metal genre but Limp Biscuit sure as hell destroyed it. Still even though I was getting my music from anywhere I could like the junkie I had become, I still found solace in funk music. Lying on my bed and flicking between 90's alternative funk was my heroine. My drug. It relaxed me when stressed with school, with flatmates and with family issues. I was going back though. I had found a new love for Stevie Wonder and George Clinton. I was digging James Brown. This music helped me through tough times. But I was not confined to just this. I still had that thirst for more. What could I listen to that would energise me? That would get me up and going like funk? Metal. Not just heavy metal. Death Metal. Sepultura, Nailbomb, Cannibal Corpse and Slayer. It was as far removed from Funk that you could get but to me it still did the same thing. It moved me. It charged me and helped me study, to play and to work. I was done. I was sorted. I had done the full revolution from one side of the musical map to the other, If I wasn't listening to Boz Skaggs, I was listening to Annie Lennox or Gravediggaz or Ohio Players or Machinehead, I was happy.
Music shaped me

I really thought my musical journey was complete. It will never be complete. Music is an inspiration of love and will continue to grow. I have an open mind to all music and can usually find something good in everything ( except Creed. I will NEVER find anything good in Creed ) and will embrace it until they wrap me in a blanket and chuck me in the ground.

Moving around, going on holiday and living in different places changes ones perception of things. I have changed. I have grown and I have seen and heard things that have made me laugh and cry. Thankfully never a Nickleback concert.
I am currently in East Africa and digging the Kenyan jazz scene. Who would of thought I would be here all those years ago after growing up in a small town in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand...........

Prologue:  So here I am sitting in my office at work 120km from central Nairobi in Kenya and I am writing this blog for the first time and listening to the sultry smooth voice of Curtis Mayfield while I do it. Funk is still my most favourite style of music, its fun, its sad, its happy, its groovy and it speaks to you. No other musical style can do that I believe.

I also think back.

I think back to that Midnight Oil album pinned on the wall in 1989 and I think - If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't be  the man who I am today and who I will become in the future.