Sometimes you share in an extra-special gathering that, even just a few days later, leaves you wondering ‘did that really happen?’ Such was the case with the Super Weird Substance Record Store Day event that was held at Dry Bar in Manchester last Saturday.
It did happen – a magical coming together of people in a significant space and on a significant day, where we paid our respects to the vinyl record, and how this has helped shape the lives of so many. Whilst looking back on the one hand, to those behind it the whole event was all about moving forward – onwards and upwards into our new Super Weird adventure (Kermit Leveridge & EVM128’s Blind Arcade providing our flagship project).
The Blind Arcade live dates will come later down the line, the focus of the Dry event being a poem Kermit had written that harked back to his heroin addiction, which nearly led to his mortal demise in the ’90s when, as a member of the chart-topping group Black Grape (including Shaun Ryder & Bez, formerly of the Happy Mondays), he injected himself with a dirty needle and ended up at death’s door with septicemia. As I wrote in the recent pre-event blog post, ‘Looking Back Moving On’;
“the infection causing serious damage when a ball of bacteria ripped off one of his heart valves, resulting in a major operation a few years ago, which, thankfully, was successful in repairing the damage, giving him a new lease of life. Back from the brink, Kermit’s is a tale of redemption – his life now completely turned around with the birth of his daughter, Xian, just a few weeks ago.”
The poem, ‘Lies And Other Fools’, was narrated by Kermit’s friend, the author and former international dope smuggler, Howard Marks. It’s a powerful cathartic statement that draws a line under this grimy past, enabling Kermit to move on with the positive life-affirming approach of Blind Arcade. With artist Mal Earl onboard to illustrate the poem for a comic book version, which we hope will be published later in the year, we decided to press ‘Lies And Other Fools’ onto a one-sided 7” vinyl release for the annual Record Store Day celebrations, complete with Mal’s artwork.
The whole thing was rich with symbolism. Pressing a poem onto a single sided limited run 7” wasn’t what you might call a commercial decision – there was no money to be made out of this foolishness, in fact the opposite, there was a toll to be paid. But this was as it should be, for the whole point was to mark a moment in time, from where we can collectively celebrate what went before, whilst, at the same time, setting sail on a whole new odyssey.
The original idea was to have Howard and Kermit make a personal appearance on RSD at Piccadilly Records, one of the UK’s best-loved vinyl stockists, with Howard giving a reading. However, we were a bit late in approaching them, and they weren’t able to accommodate our plan. We thought of other record shop options in other cities, and discussed the possibilities with the record’s distributer, Prime Direct, but that just didn’t feel right given that Manchester is Kermit’s hometown.
Another plan was required, and what transpired was so much more than we ever hoped for, taking the whole idea onto a new plateau. It occurred to me that Dry Bar was literally across the road from Piccadilly Records, and that this would provide the perfect setting for an event on RSD in Manchester (or as we’d later refer to it, using the old ’60s jargon, a Happening).
Dry connects directly back to The Haçienda, for it was the owners of the hallowed Manchester club (who also owned Factory Records) who opened the bar in 1989 (its 25th anniversary just happening to fall this year). Dry was even assigned a Factory Records catalogue number, FAC201 (The Hacienda itself being FAC51). It was somewhere Kermit spent a lot of time, as I did myself in the early 1990s when my Murdertone office, set up to look after the Ruthless Rap Assassins (of which Kermit was then a member) was located in Manchester.
So, as you see, for both Kermit and I, Dry has a deep historical context, providing a ideal space to play out our aim of re-connecting with the past – ‘Lies And Other Fools’ our ‘offering to the vinyl ancestors’.
What I didn’t realize until the actual day was that Howard has a hugely significant personal connection to Dry. During our taxi ride from the train station to venue we chatted about his previous associations with the city, and I was taken aback to hear that, after his release from US custody, following a 7 year incarceration, and the 1997 publication of his soon-to-be bestseller, ‘Mr Nice’, Howard presented his first book reading session at, you guessed it, Dry. Uncanny!
Whilst the initial plan revolved purely around presenting ‘Lies And Other Fools’ at Piccadilly via perhaps a 10 minute long personal appearance by Howard & Kermit, followed by some record signings, doing something at Dry would need to be more substantial in its scope. I’m currently in the process of setting up Super Weird Substance, a multi-media label that will release music by, and coordinate live appearances for Blind Arcade, amongst others. The name lent itself perfectly to a vinyl celebration, and RSD seemed an auspicious day on which to launch a new music company – that past / future balance once again in harmony.
The stars also seemed to be aligning. The following is taken from Michelle Karen’s Astrology Report for April 2014:
“April is an eclipse month. Eclipse months are always exciting in that they bring major changes, often irrevocable. They are stepping stones into a new reality that will, within a month, completely replace the old one, leading to new tracks operational for the following 19 years. A sense of acceleration and intensity accompanies these dates on which nothing we don’t fully mean, should be said.”
Record Store Day also fell during Easter, with its themes of birth, death and resurrection. Synchronicity was running riot, whichever way I looked at things.
I decided to approach Neil Scott, a Manchester DJ / promoter who has booked me for his El Diablo’s parties on numerous occasions, to see if he’d be up for getting involved and lending his expertise, which, thankfully, he was. We set on 2pm until 8pm as our timeframe, and approached Dry with the idea. Again, thankfully, they were into it too. It was all-systems go!
The event would be built around the DJs, all of whom are associated with what we’re doing in one way or another. As is only right on such a day, they’d be playing strictly vinyl. These were, in order of appearance Organic Gav, EVM128, Walter Ego, Derek Kaye and myself. Organic Gav would also return between Derek and I as selector to Kermit’s MC. They all would come to play their roles impeccably, the first half of the event chilled and full of good vibes, the second half bouncing and full of good vibes. We had the full yin yang going on.
Although the DJs underpinned the day, what enabled us to present this as a ‘Happening’ were the other things taking place in the room.
As you walked into Dry, to your left hand side the artist SLM (aka Sarah Lynn Mayhew) was painting portraits of Kermit and Howard (of which she’ll be offering up prints later down the line). Near the DJ booth Ross & Harri from Loco had come across from Leeds to muck in, projecting and manipulating moving images I’d compiled for Reels Of Steel with Tim Collins (I’m looking forward to working with Ross & Harri at the 2020 party in London, when we’ll be presenting Reels Of Steel as a full cubic visual spectacular). Moving past the DJ booth, through to the back of the room, Tim was manning a 2nd projector, whilst a listening area had been set up with Elspeth Moore, Lois Meads and Liam Atherton taking shots throughout the day of people checking out ‘Lies And Other Fools’ over headphones, played from the 7” vinyl, of course.
These were the unsung heroes and heroines of the day, not least Elspeth, Kermit’s sometimes collaborator and muse, who brought her red and white polka dot vibes into play in superfine style, constantly being in 2 places at once, be it offering you cake, badges, key rings, photos, or behind the lens of her camera, capturing the moment in her own perspicacious style.
It was a proper team effort – taking his Organic hat off, Gavin Kendrick also played a vital role in both the organization on the day and in the run-up. Scott Harcourt Whiting and James ‘Windy’ Millar provided a couple of much-needed extra pairs of hands, whilst Tracey Carmen and Nyasha Mangera-Lakew were enjoying the day, having helped during the build-up. Unable to make the event, Dan Smith and Dominic Mandrell went beyond the call of duty on the design front, whilst John McCready helped us get the word out, and provided the literary inspiration via his recommendation of the 2012 John Higgs book ‘The KLF: Chaos, Magic And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds’ (which has since been eagerly devoured by a number of us).
When, having already acquired Kermit and Howard’s autographs, somebody came up to me on the day and asked me to sign a copy of a record he’d just picked up down the road in Vinyl Exchange, you can imagine my shock (although, given the amount of coincidences that had been stacking up it was hardly a surprise) when, rather than pulling a copy of ‘Lies And Other Fools’ from his bag, he asked me, without explanation, to put my scribe across a record sleeve I haven’t seen in 20 years, The KLF’s 1991 single, ‘Justified And Ancient’. Also (for those who’ve read the John Higgs book), Echo made a brief appearance outside of Dry at the end of the night, and we locked eyes for a few seconds before he hopped off into the Manchester night (it was Easter though, so nobody else noticed anything unusual).
There turned out to be another major point of interest at the far end of venue, Kermit’s beautiful baby girl Xian, not even a month old, who’d been brought along by mum, Amanda Moonbeam. Needless to say she caused quite a stir by her very presence.
From the laid back good time feel of the afternoon, proceedings gained pace as the evening drew in. After Kermit and OG had roused the room, Howard got up to say a few words, telling the story of his Dry connection. Just to have Howard there with us was enough – he was so gracious throughout the day, happily chatting to people and signing whatever was put in front of him – Nice by name nice by nature.
I’m blown away by the fact that Howard experienced one of the key British countercultural moments, almost half a century ago, in June 1965, when, as a young man in his late teens he attended The International Poetry Incarnation at London’s Royal Albert Hall (featuring the great Allen Ginsberg, the highlight being Adrian Mitchell’s pointed comment on the then escalating Vietnam War, ‘To Whom It May Concern’). Now, here he was, stepping into our world via his narration of a poem, and thus evoking, at least in me, the spirit of a different age – an increasingly lost age in this corporate world, but not on that Easter Saturday in Manchester. The possibilities are still there – it’s all a case of being open to them.
The day was all about connections and re-connections, spanning from the ’60s through to now, with particular emphasis on Manchester’s golden years of the ’80s. There was pure history in that room, from major players to cult figures – all around me people who hadn’t seen each other in years, even decades, were reunited under the banner of Super Weird Substance. When we asked for the blessings of the ancestors it was exactly this type of congregation we’d have hoped might gather. The fact they did feeds our belief that we’re on the right track, and that we’ve made a propitious start to our journey – the wheels having been set in motion with the type of fool’s leap Alan Moore had described;
“Quitting my day job and starting my life as a writer was a tremendous risk. It was a fool’s leap, a shot in the dark, but anything of any value in our lives – whether that be a career, a work of art, a relationship – will always start with such a leap. And in order to be able to make it you have to put aside the fear of failing and the desire of succeeding.”
After Howard had spoken, we were treated to what for many was the highlight of the day, when Katherine & Carmel Reynolds delivered a stunning live jam, singing over the top of a handful of tracks including Derek Kaye’s edit of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’, and my edit of an old Manchester cult-classic, T-Coy’s ‘Carino’. Katherine & Carmel will make their own vinyl debut in the month ahead, featuring on my upcoming Schooled In The Classics release, soon to be made available on 12”, whilst also doing their thing on a number of Super Weird Substance / Blind Arcade recordings. These girls are, quite simply, a vocal force of nature – I’m in awe of them, as are many others judging from the reaction at Dry where they brought the house down. What some people wouldn’t have realized is that this wasn’t a meticulously rehearsed routine, as they might have expected given the quality of the performance, but something that the twins pretty much made up as they went along. All I can say is watch this space.
As I brought proceedings to an end I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to give away all the records I’d played that day (plus a few I hadn’t) – it just happened on the spare of the moment. It would be disingenuous to paint this as some grand altruistic gesture, for, being mostly my own edits or mixes, I have duplicate copies of these records at home. However, there was something, once again, symbolic in this spontaneous action, reinforcing the intention to make an offering as we take that leap of faith.
It also felt good to pass something on to this room full of people who’d decided to come and share the day with us – to come to a party we’d, in effect, thrown for ourselves, friends and family. All were invited and new friendships are already being forged between previously disconnected groups of people who met on the day – it was that type of communal vibe, and I can’t stress how precious this is when it comes along. It really marked a moment, which is exactly what we’d hoped to do – the success of this, our first Happening, surpassing all of our expectations.
The next phase, the mixtape ‘Blind Arcade Meets Super Weird Substance In The Morphogenetic Field’, cometh soon.
Super Weird Substance: