Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Looking back through my life there were two periods when music really meant something, when it was vibrant, when it was important, when it was dangerous. There were the early nineties and the period starting in 1976 and going through to the early eighties, notably post punk or whatever you want to call it. There are many artists from this period that have passed the test of time, not like the terribly synthetic, lost decade, the eighties, it would take to long to mention them and if you're too young, got a bad memory or were in prison you can always read Simon Reynold's book "Rip It Up And Start Again", which does an excellent job in its 500+ pages.
Scritti Politti, who have become little more than vehicle for Welsh singer Songwriter Garth Gartside, are one of the many treasures from this period, growing out of London's then fertile underground culture. Gartside the bright underachiever at school managed to obtain a place at a provincial art college were he was to meet his co-founders of Scritti, they rapidly dropped out of school and headed for London. Inspired by the do it yourself ethic of punk and the Desperate Bicycles in particular they decided to learn how to play and formed Scritti Politti, which is a rough translation of political writings in Italian. This choice of name illustrates Gartsides interest in politics, from his teen years he sympathised with left wing groups, and philosophy. Three months was all it took them from their formation to the release of their self produced debut 45rpm 'Scank Bloc Bologna', the sound was experimental to say the least. Gartside's sweet vocals were laid over a backdrop characterised by its abrupt changes and rhythmic displacements making for a demanding but pleasurable listening experience. The first pressing of 2,500, which sold out, came complete with hand made sleeves, it was obvious that despite the experimental nature there was a demand and Rough Trade snapped them up and went on to sell over 15,000 copies. Aged only 23 Gartside suffered a heart attack rumoured to have been brought on by stage fright when supporting Gang Of Four and Joy Division, this led to him taking a year off. When he was to return in 1981 it was with the sublime 'Sweetest Girl' , a sound much more pop and accessible, but keeping his characteristic subversive edge, just look at the sleeve! Their following album 'Songs To Remember' made it to number 6 in the UK charts. After this success Gartside was the only original member remaining and decided that Rough Trade could not finance his musical ambitions and after much bidding from different labels signed up with Virgin. Hardly the most prolific of artists his major labels days yielded only three albums 'Cupid and Psyche' in 1985 which also housed his biggest international hits, 1988's 'Provision' and the very poorly received 'Anomie and Bohemie' in 1999.
2006 looks like it might be a good year Scritti Politti have returned to their spiritual home, Rough Trade, and have their fifth album in 25 years scheduled for a 5 June release. Entitled 'White Bread and Black Beer' rumour has it that it's a killer, mixing hip hop with the Beach Boys, unfortunately not having a pre-release copy I can neither deny nor confirm this, what I can say is that it's always a pleasure to have some thing new from Green Gartside.