- 2020-10-04 00:25:36+02:00
Cedric was a guitarist and singer, who during the late seventies turned up at my house to jam whenever he felt like it, and then always played with spontaneous and inspired abandonment. He never left a phone-number or address, so our get-togethers were dependent on chance meetings and messages relayed through mutual friends.
’I am not Jamaican, my parents are from Antigua, and anyway I’m English,’ he proclaimed, all in the one breathless sentence, in answer to some observation of mine about his taste in music. He disdained reggae for years, preferring rock or jazz or funk or soul. Punk never entered his lexicon of style. Cedric and I would go and hear bands at the Half Moon pub in Herne Hill, which brought back memories for us of the earlier part of the decade.
‘Remember that crew of freaks who were starting an ‘art gallery’ on the corner of Railton road? By the alley behind the station where Maltese Ray was stabbed chasing down the trilby hat they took off him at the fair in Brockwell Park? They nicked it off his head and legged it down the passage? He took off after them (he always had a lot of guts) but then he saw the blades...
...anyway, this art gallery: someone had got this shop space and because I was chasing some girl who was having it off with one of these guys I started to show my face. They never showed any art at all, this lot, all they did was lie around listening to Pink Floyd, except when there was no smoke and then they would go to the Half Moon. Long before it became the ‘pub-rock venue’ we was there drinking bitter and checking out the trio that had the weekend residency. This trio you ask? Oh, the instruments? It was an ‘organist’, the double bass, and swishy swinging ride cymbals. They went from one old tune to another and all the old people nodded along, quite funny really. But the beer was good and sometimes one of our lot, ‘Little Rick’ would get up and blow ‘Traintime’ with them, on his harmonica. Yeah him, the one what looks like a hunch-back when he plays, you know him? Yeh, very coarse sound, plays fast though. Always looks like a boxer trying to win the last round. But the way it felt when he played was like the future was, like, well, ours, instead of all that other....
Remember the black out? Them power cuts and three day weeks? It was scary going home at night, kids whistling to each other through the dark dark. Street-gangs, or so they said. By the time I got home I would realise just how piss-drunk I was, and then I had to creep up the stairs that creaked like crazy, and I always felt like I was going to fall over and wake everyone. Once in bed I’d get the earphones in place and travel until sleep swept me away....’
It was strange to be back only a couple of years later and see the dank old room full of trendies grooving to jazz-funk, and down the end, lent up against the stage-left speaker column: the guitarist. His fingers stroke a Gibson semi-solid, the notes are golden and warm, they burst from under his hand and spray the listeners, he stands back to appraise the impact as he straddles the bass and drum. Other players come and go--this is a ‘jam’ session--but he is constant, always on hand to catch the faltering chord change or the enervated solo and set it right and send the music on its way. Eventually he too tires, and then the band must break, and sit at their table, nurse drinks through the smoke and clutter of talk until re-energised they clamber back, carried on the approving yelps of the crowd. Little Rick walked up on the stand one of the nights that Cedric and I were there. We wanted to be up there with him.
We organised our own jam, in a Nissan hut owned by the Council that was dedicated to ‘youth activities’. Marck came, glowering out from his black beard, coaxing endless melody from his horn and I marveled that he wasn’t already a star. When not blowing he was busy at the keyboard analysing, defining and rewriting everybody else’s parts. The ‘real’ keyboard player was a kid who was leaving for Berklee, the jazz school in North America. He and Marck talked in a rarefied zone as equals, whilst I fiddled with the tuning of my guitar. Then Cedric came, Cedric who knew the least of chords, extensions, odd metred time signatures and the like, but played sweet solos with his eyes screwed shut and his tongue lolling out, forcing notes into places they had no business being. He was very assertive too, stepping out as often as possible with flurries and clusters of sound, and I receded further in the face of him, and hated it.
‘Why can’t I just close my eyes and lay it all out as the only thing in the world worth doing--as he does?’ I wondered.
I didn’t see Cedric for a while after, although I did see Marck as he and I played on some demos together, down in Ashford at some ‘famous’ producer’s country house. At least, he was famous enough to have a swimming pool in the back garden in which I exhausted myself at lunch time, thereby ruining my performance on the later takes. Marck got drunk, but somehow as always, his playing remained steady.
The bass guitar in many ways defines the sound of the seventies, as the guitar did for the sixties. The instrument gathered reputation throughout the decade. Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius had fostered respectability for the instrument as a ‘real axe’; one worthy of the attention of a virtuoso. The influential Steel Pulse were able to bring a militant, ‘bottom-heavy’, ‘sound system’ sensibility into the wider public eye. Sting wielded the bass as a rock symbol in the way that only the guitar had been until then. Funk, and the slap of disco, were ubiquitous throughout the period.
Public Image Limited, grounded by the dub influenced sound of Jah Wobble, were big. From the first muezzin like cries and the dark rumbling bottom end of the eponymous debut single it was clear that out of the interactive ritual of abuse that typified any good Punk performance in the late seventies, music was beginning to appear, music that conveyed varied and complex emotions. Texture abounded, and although there was terrible power and aggression about the whole project, you were invited, even seduced in, rather than bludgeoned.
Not wishing to be left out, I picked up the bass again, the instrument I had started with at school, as well as continuing as a guitarist. Coincident with the arrival of recordings by the likes of Steel Pulse and Misty in Roots in my house (and the sound of the Police on the radio) Cedric began to visit more often, and now he was playing reggae. ’But this is “musical” reggae--major 7 chords, unison lines, chord breaks,’ he said, when I teased him about his earlier reluctance to draw on the genre. ‘British reggae’. It was a sensible choice really, the only viable alternative to Punk.