Monday, 21 December 2020

KEITH HUDSON - Michael Talbot Affair


As sound clashes developed in Jamaica in the 1970s, the dub plate, where the popular reggae tunes were stripped down to rhythm and drums providing the sound systems with the space to lay down their own sounds as well as the toasting and improvised toasting of the DJs that were invited to perform against each other, took on an energy of it's own. This intense competition between sound systems and the need to deliver to exclusive versions to match and outplay the rival sound systems led to an intensively creative period in Reggae music with the reworking of tunes using the sound studio to weave or drop in musical and vocal phrases over the drum and bass, often accented by dub or other effects before fading out. Each sound system developed its own highly prized style to attract large followings as well as outplay rivals in the musical duels as it revealed new dub plates that offered original reworkings of tunes and innovative dub sounds to dazzle. The originality of sound engineers meant that their studios and output became as famous as the sound systems, musicians and vocalists, singers and toasters. Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock and “Lee Scratch” Perry were key to these developments and their fame spread far and wide, including the UK where British sound systems in its metropoles, such as Sir Coxsone Sounds (named after the famous Coxsone Dodd sound system in Jamaica), Jah Shaka and Chanel One (a little later) in London as well as many others in London and the UK, set up and imported the latest dub plates to acclaim.

In the mid-1970s in central London the two places to hit were Colombo’s where Sir Coxsone played and the Thursday night reggae session at the 100 Club where virtually every single reggae artist played when they passed through London, including Gregory Isaacs, Sugar Minot, Lone Ranger, Cedric Myton and the Congos among a plethora of other great Jamaican musicians. Daddy Kools sound system from the reggae vendor Daddy Kools in Hanway Street off Tottenham Court Road played the sounds at the 100 club and people would bring in the latest dub plate from Jamaica for them to play, including one week in 1976 the classic King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown by Augustus Pablo that had been circulating as an exclusive dub plate. The next day I rushed round to Daddy Kools to buy a DJ white cover copy from their fast diminishing stack of King Tubby’s which they had bought the previous night. King Tubby and Lee Scratch Perry, with his Dub Blackboard Jungle are perhaps the two most recognised dub originators with many classic dub records to their names but another who is much less well known as a dub originator is Keith Hudson, whose song The Michael Talbot Affair was part of his dub album Pick-a-Dub. This was the first thematic album in dub released in 1974 and was the first dub album to be released in the UK.

One of the truly great dub albums it presented a seemingly austere focus on drum and bass but reworked classic tunes with Aston and Carlton Barret (from Bob Marley and the Wailers) laying down bass and drums that opens up to repeated hearings while Keith Hudson, Big Youth and Horace Andy add vocal phrases. However the Michael Talbot Affair is for me the apex of the album and I listen to it on a regular basis right up to the present day. It has a complex interweaving of melody lines by a range of instruments, including Augustus Pablo’s melodica, that shape the dub rhythm and as it plays, its different interposed elements and phrases enrich each other while the progression of both the rhythm and the melodies offer a satisfying resolution by its end. It is a classic and truly great original cut that can match any comparable example in other genres.


I have to admit, I’m a total novice with regard to Dub. I’ve since done a small amount of reading up about it online, and I can’t believe I never knew what a crucial role toasters played. I do now. 

I’ve always found it hard to get into the laid-back groove of Dub though, always preferring the more upbeat stylings of Ska; but this instrumental based on House of the Rising Sun had a bit more to it for me. Being largely in a minor key it has a mournful feel to it, which seems to tally with one youtube poster who says that it’s “In memory of Michael Talbot from Bristol who lost his life in a racist incident in the '70s”.  

The twinning of the guitar & sax after the stripped down introduction works really well and the melodic lines merge nicely: the guitar seeming to take Eric Burdon’s vocal line from the original and the sax playing a variation alongside it; but the guitar is lower in the mix so it’s not necessarily the first thing you hear.  

The guitar repeats this melodic line afterwards, with the sax comping alongside it – and that’s where the hook became more obvious to me. Then the sax takes over for the last half of the song, which reprises its earlier theme in a very unassuming, discreet fashion – occasionally drifting out completely to allow subtle piano & organ to quietly fill the gaps. The only thing which jarred ever so slightly was the errant C in the fadeout, but it’s such a tasteful solo – and I rather like it when the occasional bum note is left in. 

Given the dedication mentioned above, this song seems to me like a hugely dignified response to a tragic incident in a racially charged period of our nation’s history, and I’m grateful that I’ve been made aware of it now. 


I went looking for a coffee table the other day. A small coffee table. I’d just moved flat and realised I’d reached the point where all was in place except this, a place for my mug of tea. So with impending national restrictions on my shopping options in the air I ventured out in search of said item with headphones on bleeding the works of Keith Hudson into my ears. A cold heavy rain set about the streets around Olympia where nearly a hundred years before Oswald Mosely had entertained a monster gathering of British fascists and where in December 1967 the psychedelic underground had its final fling with the Christmas on Earth Continued event with Hendrix, Soft Machine, The Move, Pink Floyd, Traffic et al elbowing each other out of the way on their mad dash for overground success. I was heading south as Shepherd’s Bush had surprisingly offered nothing at all in the shape of second-hand furniture. That seems odd doesn’t it? Perhaps that’s what happens when the largest Shopping mall in Europe sets itself down on a locale like some gleaming spaceship. “What is this thing called dub?” I thought to myself, as I carefully stepped over puddles that I judged may engulf my Jermaine Genius-style white sole trainers, recently repaired via stick-on-soles from Timpsons. With it’s booming bass-lines and echo-treated drums it struck me it’s just another colour on the great aural palette of mind-altering music intended to achieve the Rimbaudian disordering of the senses. It also struck me that the great Westfield shopping centre could possibly have been accommodated within the confines of the Olympia exhibition hall, maybe leaving Shepherds Bush with more space for crazy alleyways of bric-a-brac shops and…second hand furniture. Wasn’t Steptoe and Son set in Shepherd’s Bush? I think a certain music fan always reaches out for stuff that promises an other-worldly sensation. Music as a drug perhaps for those of us who prefer a pint of beer than dangerous meetings with shadowy figures in Camden doorways. When I was young in the late 70s and 80’s I can see the path had been pre-destined for me to term this sort of musical quest as psychedelic; the dry vacuum of the 80’s could do nothing but half-remember more colourful days. It was a catch-all phrase for the way-out which I soon applied similarly to my enjoyment of jazz with it's Pollock abstracts on the Ornette Coleman gatefold sleeves. The long soloing passages of Coltrane clearly inspiring the improvisational efforts of the 60s guitarists and keyboard virtuoso’s to come. I thought of this as I crossed Gunterstone Road where Hendrix was first deposited from the newly christened Heathrow Airport in 1966 and where he jammed with Andy Somers, later to find fame in The Police, and from where he set about dismantling the London psychedelic movement. Hendrix was fond of the echoed guitar sound drifting away into the background, like his B52 bomber raid solo during the Star Spangled Banner. Interesting to hear the same effects adopted by Jamaican studio freaks just a few years later. Down North End Road I finally found a coffee table small enough to carry home. I held it over my head to keep off the rain and darted down a side street maze back home. The Michael Talbot Affair came on just as I turned down Beaumont Crescent where I found a plaque to the home of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. And speaking of coincidences the last time Hendrix played it was at Ronnie Scott’s in the company of Eric Burdon the vocalist on The House of the Rising Sun. I like the way London can send my thoughts adrift in kaleidoscope patterns and this thing called dub is a welcome addition to my palette.



As instructed I’m going to ignore the monumental contribution this recording offered to the music industry spawning the commerciality of remixing. Creating the notion that everything that had ever been recorded could exist in multiple commercial editions is perhaps the greatest contribution Dub made, together with opening the door of aesthetic intellectual pretensions normally reserved for the jazz set to descend to lesser technicians of the musical fraternities. Dub also bestowed musicality status to the mixers and studio engineers who had been silently building greater reputations in the industrial production cycle of popular music.

The Michael Talbot Affair takes the Animals standard “House of the rising sun”, strips the lyric about brothels from the piece. Drops the chord structure down two tones to a G Sharp tuning, and speeds up the rhythm from 125 BPM to 143 BPM. The chords are Dbm / Ebm / Gb / Abm / Db / Bbm / Bd / Eb

The mix favours the drum and bass end. Pleasing but the vocal is missed, being too recognisable to the original.

Sunday, 6 December 2020



It’s impossible to adequately characterize the music of Frank Zappa: it’s rock, blues, jazz, classical, doo-wop, vaudeville, satire, avant-garde and more, all rolled into one (and often, all rolled into one song). I remember my first feeling of listening to Zappa: through chunky old, industry standard headphones in a small booth in my uni record library, I thought “this is incredible, what the fuck is it?”. 30 years on and I still get a similar rush of discovery, even though the LPs are familiar to me now.  

People at the time maybe saw Zappa as counter-culture because he wrote weird music and had unkempt hair like all the other freaks, but that’s only a bird’s eye view of the man and his work. Look at the disdain he shows for the ‘institutionalized hippiedom’ (as High Fidelity referred to it) and its burgeoning commercial appeal on We’re Only In It For The Money and on Flower Punk in particular, and you’ll see him calling out all the fakes and the Johnny-Come-Latelies: the ones jumping on the corporate-approved bandwagon with the hope/expectation of making some coin and getting laid. 

Flower Punk sets the scene with the choice of cover, ripping off the cliched standard Hey Joe (there was also a taste of this on Absolutely Free, with the cack-handed opening chords of the already hackneyed Louie Louie on Plastic People) but this time played in 7/8 to cock a snook at the non-musos, and sped up twice as fast on Zappa’s Variable Speed Oscillator. 

The lyrics nail all the Scott McKenzie stereotypes one by one: Hey punk, where you going with those beads around your neck/ that button on your shirt/ that flower in your hand/ that hair on your head – with the responses as shallow as the image drawn: I'm goin' up to Frisco to join a psychedelic band/ to the love-in to sit & play my bongos in the dirt/ to the dance to get some action, then I'm goin' home to bed. As he says calmly to the enraged punter screaming at a “uniform” at the end of Little House I Used to Live In from Burnt Weeny Sandwich: “Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, and don’t kid yourself.” 

For me, the real cynicism is in the spoken musings of said Punk though: in the left channel, sped up, Zappa is talking about how he’s just learnt the guitar, can strum some chords pretty well and hopes a girl in the audience will notice him and hook up with him; in the right channel, regular speed, he’s wondering what he’ll buy with all his imagined future royalties – a bike, no - a car, no - a boat, no – real estate… and then hopes that girl in the audience will notice him and hook up with him. Tellingly, the song ends and both left and right channel voices have to ask the band if it’s finished. Ouch. 

Zappa deliberately made music that was awkward, disjointed, askew, out of step with the regular beat; commercial or critical acclaim weren’t even a consideration. Ironically, We’re Only In It For The Money was Zappa’s most commercially successful LP of the early period. Maybe the twisted Sgt Pepper parody cover - complete with alternative celebrities on the inside gatefold and band members in drag on the outside - helped gain some notoriety.  

His music is challenging, complex, original, genuinely funny, indulgent, shocking, thought-provoking, infuriating at times – but never compromised. Maybe the best way to categorise Zappa is that he was exactly what everyone else wasn’t. If you don’t get it, that’s your problem. 


Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were always striking for their versality in playing and often switching genres in mid-song on record and in live performance. Their musicianship live was impressive if under the tight control of Frank Zappa. Zappa himself was a gifted guitarist which was most apparent in live performance as some You Tube recorded performances highlight. For me his best albums were Cruisin with Ruben and the Jets (1968), Hot Rats (1969)  and Weasel Rip my Flesh (1970) where his artful genre explorations appeared to veer between enjoyment of the music. Thisis exemplified in Cruisin with Ruben and the Jets where he explored and celebrated surfing music and the heritage of rock and roll which contributed to it, such as bands like the Coasters with their consummate lyrics written by Leiber and Stoller that documented (as did the songs of Chuck Berry, “the poet Laureate of Rock and Roll”) teenage life in the 1950s. We Are Only in It for the Money  where Flower Punk featured was recorded in the same year as Cruisin with Ruben and the Jets in 1968. It along with Hot Rats and Weasel Rip my Flesh shift Zappa’s attention to the explosion of rock as the emergent rebellious music of a new generation. As an inventive composer Zappa always played with the genres he explored often verging on parody and pastiche, if wittily done. He seemed caught between the desire to have a major world wide hit in each genre he encapsulated and a contrary desire to show his total mastery of a genre by outdoing songs that were already highly successful. Such is the case with We Aare Only in it for the Money whose cover parodied the Beatles innovative album cover for Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band created by John Haworth and Peter Blake and ridiculed the values of the psychedelic hippie movement with its emphasis on all things free, including love, as response to the conservatism that had preceded the early sixties as well as the ongoing power of the corporate institutions to dictate the lives of its employees. Flower Punk parodies the track Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix and for good measure to show Zappa’s mastery throws in riffs from Wild Thing,  while ridiculing the flower power advocated by the hippie movement with its rejection of the Vietnam war and the enforced draft of those without political connections to evade its call up (such as ex president Trump). The lyric mercilessly targets Scott Mckenzie’s popular if gentle hit If You Are Going to San Francisco (Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair) as Haight Ashbury in San Francisco was then regarded as the epi-centre of this emergent counter-culture, if already in decline. Zappa visited London in 1971 to play at the Rainbow Theatre and notoriously was pushed offstage by an irate fan, breaking ribs and suffering other severe injuries. I saw him play on his next visit to London where he seemed, for obvious reasons, wary of the audience. The musicianship was impressive and Zappa’s skill with the electric guitar was of the highest order but constant switches of genre in mid song became irritating and the quality of musicianship lacked heart, rendering it for all its sometimes bizarre yet impressive changes of tempo to this viewer an academic exercise. 




I can see a teenage Zappa and the even stranger Beefheart sucking back on their root beers at the Drive-in. Snickering in unison with feet on the dashboard, peeking through their toe-gaps at the giant clicking ants in the cold war B movie flashing before their eyes. A block away the looming antennae shapes casting shadows across the walls of the Mojave Army installation where “Pop” Zappa earnestly mixed batches of experimental mustard gas. Over the course of time perhaps the leaking chemical clouds escaped over Suburb-a-ville into the school rooms and general store and maybe mutating down at the Hop it sent the assembled straights writhing and frothing to music that was an unholy mix of doo wop pap, Lenny Bruce rap and free jazz scapings. But no it was just Zappa Jnrs deep-seated despair of the world around him that created this music. A provocateur so frustrated and angry with everything around him that he tore up the rule books from the start and tore into the heart of a Great Society on its inevitable manifold destiny towards Trumpism.


On Sunset Strip Zappa trooped in behind Brian Wilson, the only two genius' (other than Phil Spector) allowed to conduct the Wrecking Crew. On his “Lumpy Gravy” composition these long in the tooth paid by the hour Pro’s mocked him but once he'd made them follow his sheet music it seems they kinda revered him. Zappa was a very intelligent musician and writer.You can hear him thinking in the space of a song, which was part of his problem. Maybe he was too clever. Where Wilson was a doomed romantic so Zappa was prophetically nihilistic and in retrospect it makes perfect sense why he and The Monkees were not so strange bedfellows.

 The Mothers Zappa dragged out of this fault-line to play the music, had the genuine look of recidivist sex-offenders discharged from a Peckinpah Bordello scene. Tex-Mex scary hippies long before Manson made that idea a going concern. I mean they looked like the only band that could have possibly recorded "Brown Shoes Don't Make it". A song that to this day makes me feel very uncomfortable. (“What would you do Daddy?”). There was a conscious effort to surround himself with freaks (Beefheart Wild Man Fischer, Flo and Eddie) it was part of a grand surreal plot to jolt the normal world. I makes me think of Vic and Bob’s employment of Uncle Peter et al. (ED.I note the one in the middle is currently incarcerated for sexual offences with minors) 


By the end of the decade he'd already moved on, pushing his band towards jazz-rock breaking point with long complex instrumental movements which set the template for many others to follow such as the Soft Machine (listen to “King Kong” and then Soft Machine II). Behind he left three complex pop oratorios that matched Wilson's cut and paste “Smile” ambition in both scope and multi tracked over-dubbed execution (and I mean over). Freak-Out, Absolutely Free and We’re Only in it for the Money turned the flashlight on a riot torn racially divided America, where teens idiotically fucked up on their way to becoming dad whilst dad fucked up on his way to becoming dead. They're complex records worthy of multiple re-play, crammed full of hidden movements and jokes and snatches of ideas that most other bands would have milked a whole career out of. 'Flower-punk' gives a taste, inverting a garage staple into a gently humorous satire of the Plastic Frisco-bound.


If you’re so inclined, try Uncle Meat next up to the end of '69's Hot Rats. Then switch back to Beefheart. Then stop.



I must confess I never really ever got Frank Zappa. I have been aware of him. I have been told he’s worth listening to. I think because I haven’t found my own way to his music I have an appreciation block that I’ve never been able to shift. 

“Flower Punk” is described as a parodic reference to Hendrix’s Hey Joe that lampoons the hippy movement, whilst at the same time deliberately exploiting it by encouraging the counter culturals to consume it whilst explicitly dissing them. Zappa was a jazz musician who evolved a formula to represent his less structured music as mainstream. Musically I found the sped-up track with the tape speed variation lyrics unimpressive in 2020. I have heard the same analogue experimentation performed to greater effect and more obvious musical purpose. Culturally I can see a musician defiantly trying to stay one foot in front of his marketeers without losing access to the golden goose that feeds him. Maybe this was the sound of the death knell of 1968, or at least a reverse echo filtered through several valve based distortion units before being reverted to nonsense. The moral of the story being don’t complain about being a cartoon if you want to be a grand master. Be a grand master, even if the cartoon pays more. This is what Zappa did in his later career, but at this stage he’s still fumbling around.