New Wave MPV: Guy Pratt

Guy Pratt by Polly Samson

Guy Pratt by Polly Samson

This morning I was listening to my favorite Icehouse album and it reminded me that I’ve needed to look more closely at the career of bass player Guy Pratt in a way that I have been meaning to do for years. I first got wind of Pratt when the former graphic designer got the nod to join Icehouse in time for their “Primitive Man” tour at the ripe old age of 19. While Pratt did not play on that album, he got exposure that has served his career exceptionally well as Icehouse on that tour were tapped to open for a certain Mr. Bowie’s tour of 1983. You might say that all eyes were on the young Pratt. Names to follow.

Nine Straight Albums Of Pratt Mojo

icehouse - sidewalkOZCDAThe first recorded evidence of Mr. Pratt was a stunner. The tour band from 1983 rolled off the stages and into the studio and the imperial Icehouse lineup recorded the “Sidewalk” album. Pratt’s bass playing on this was white hot as Pratt offered both fretted and the en vogue fretless sounds of the early 80s in his capable hands. If his profile raised with the Bowie your, his playing here clinched him as a man to hire if you wanted some excellent bass.

the power station CD USCDAHe next surfaced in the orbit of Robert Palmer, who obviously took in a few Serious Moonlight shows and liked what he heard. This led to Palmer inviting Pratt to his home for some productive writing sessions that first surfaced on the eponymous “Power Station” album in 1984. The jazzy “Go To Zero” was from the pen of Pratt and much to John Taylor’s embarrassment, producer Bernard Edwards called Pratt in to show him exactly how to play the bass line. The one time I saw Pratt play live was ironically when touring for the second Power Station album in 1997 that saw him replace absent John Taylor who sat that album out.

Caroline World Service | DL | 2008

He next became involved with the debut album of Stephen Duffy, “The Ups + Downs.” Pratt played bass of the funky slap variety on many of the more upbeat dance tracks, which in the rear view mirror of history constituted an aberration in Duffy’s career. The quieter, more introspective numbers that paved the way forward for Duffy didn’t look to have too much Pratt involvement in them pencilled in, but he remained in Duffy’s orbit for a little while longer.

robert palmer - riptideUSCDA1985 also found Pratt playing bass and singing on Palmer’s mega-selling “Riptide” album. His long-term history with Palmer lasted for many years and albums. Also in 1985, in addition to an established player like Palmer, Pratt also got caught up in the wake of another songwriter whom I usually associate with Duffy, if only for temperament and mutual Nick Drake influence. That would be Nick Laird-Clowes of the well-named Dream Academy.

the dream academy USCDAThat band’s debut album would also feature Pratt rubbing shoulders with the likes of session monster Pino Palladino. Significantly, it was here that was the point of entry for Mr. Pratt into the orbit of rock gods Pink Floyd. The Dream Academy were aided and abetted by Floyd guitarist David Gilmour who discovered the band and poured a lot of his energy into getting them signed and recorded. He produced the album as well.

Stephen-Duffy_Because-We-Love-You-UKLPA!986 was another very full dance card for Pratt with the second, and vastly under-appreciated Stephen Duffy solo album appearing that year. Pratt co-wrote and produced “Something Special,” the great single that had Duffy duetting with Sandii [of Sandii + The Sunsetz fame]. He would also work on Duffy’s second album that year, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

icehouse - measureformeasureOZCDAThat second Icehouse album was beckoning and the material on this one was an incredible blend of disparate eras of Roxy Music fused into a while. The album sounded like the “For Your Pleasure” era cross-pollinated with “Flesh + Blood” or “Avalon.” It featured smooth elegance or berserk rock with little modulation in between the two poles. Sadly, this would be the last Icehouse album to be a berth for the peripatetic Pratt; the guy was just too busy and in-demand to stay moored to even one of Australia’s biggest rock bands.

Dr-Calculus_Designer-Beatnik-UKLPAFinally, 1986 closed with Pratt’s hat trick for Stephen Duffy, the at-least-two-years-ahead-of-the-curve, proto-Ecstasy non-classic “Designer Beatnik” by Duffy with Pigbag’s Roger Freeman. Pratt was master of bass frequencies on the often whimsical album that mixed chansons and proto-ambient recordings that had little precedent at the time. As Duffy mordantly put it “I made the first Ecstasy record and thought that it needed clarinets on it.”

Bryan-Ferry_Bete-Noire-USCDAAs a lifelong Roxy Music fan, Pratt was more then impressed that Bryan Ferry also came a-calling. The beginning of a beautiful relationship began with Pratt helping to pen “The Seven Deadly Sins” on Ferry’s “Bête Noire” opus of 1987. There was forged a relationship that has seen Pratt continuing to play and record with Ferry to this day.

After i987, Pratt’s career exploded outside of the New Wave ghetto that he began in. Stars like Madonna or Michael Jackson are certainly outside of the purview of this blog, but the most significant chapter of Pratt’s life would probably be his replacement of Roger Waters in Pink Floyd. As you’ll recall, he first met David Gilmour when working with The Dream Academy [he played on all three of their albums] and when it came time for Floyd to exist without Waters, Gilmour gave Pratt the nod when hyper-talented bassist to the stars Tony Levin was otherwise engaged.

Flans_Luz-y-Sombra-MXCDAKirsty-MacColl_Kite-USCDARobert-Palmer_Dont-Explain USCDA Lio-fleurspourunchameleonCANCDA Kirsty-MacColl_Electric-Landlady-USCDA Bryan-Ferry_Mamouna-USCDA Robert-Palmer_Ridin-High-USCDA Associates_Wild-and-Lonely-UKCDA Marianne-Faithfull-vagabondwaysUSCDA Bryan_Ferry_Olympia UKDLXCDA Icehouse-whiteheatOZ2xCD+DVDA bryan ferry avonmore USCDA

Once inside the Floyd sphere [and it would be a sphere, wouldn’t it?] he found his natural wit endeared him to the band beyond his facility with the bass frequencies. Then, it was only a matter of time before he married Rick Wright’s daughter and was literally family to these rock gods. So, good for Pratt, even if it was New Wave’s loss. Heck, by 1987, New Wave was cold in the coffin, so cry no tears. Funnily enough, Pratt managed to blow off Floyd for the prestigious Live 8 gig in 2005 due to a conflict between a touring Roxy Music and his Floyd mates. He had toured with Pink Floyd so many times, how could he give up the dream gig of playing with Roxy Music at the same show [albeit in the German concert]? It was along time coming for Pratt.

guy pratt - my bass and other animals

In 2005, Pratt began an intriguing alternate chapter of his musical life as he performed in a one man show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that recounted his storied career. Two years later, he turned his show, performed all over the world by now, into the book “My Bass And Other Animals.” It’s a good read for fans especially of the early period in his career where he seemed to be on every album I bought for three years straight. It’s a great body of work that served to introduce me to his talent and I quickly learned that where he showed up [at least until 1987] it was probably at some nexus of interest for me. He had a run comparable to that of fellow NWMVP-er Adrian Belew early in his career as well.

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Song of the Day: Blondie – T-Birds

Chrysalis | US | CD | 1987 | VK 41290

Chrysalis | US | CD | 1987 | VK 41290

Blondie: Autoamerican US CD [1987]

  1. Europa
  2. Live It Up
  3. Here’s Looking At You
  4. The Tide Is High
  5. Angels On The Balcony
  6. Go Through It
  7. Do The Dark
  8. Rapture
  9. Faces
  10. T-Birds
  11. Walk Like Me
  12. Follow Me

I know, I know. It’s been only a few posts back where we fell down the “Eat To The Beat” rabbit hole, but here I am, the very next week, posting on a Blondie song that I just can’t get out of my head today. That’s the price we pay for the haphazard fashion in which I craft this blog! In many ways it makes perfect sense that after listening to “Union City Blue,” what must have been dozens of times last week, that I would eventually get a yen to hear its close cousin in sound.

After I played it the first time this morning I thought to myself, that this simply must have been a Nigel Harrison song, since the song’s traits are so closely related to the wondrous “Union City Blue” and my instincts were spot on. The biggest difference in this song was how the song lacked the expansive buildup on the back of Clem Burke’s drums. This one bolted from the gate at full speed with [I’m guessing] Frank Infante’s nimble guitar giving with the utterly glorious riffs that all of the cascading drums and percussion are playing a secondary role to this time out.  The riffing was clearly influenced by Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun” but its placement in a buoyant, ecstatic pop song couldn’t be more different.

And the song does indeed soar, not only due to the powerful guitar, but also thanks to the legendary backing vocals of Flo + Eddie, who blend with Ms. Harry to winning effect. This was the one song on “Autoamerican” that just sounded “big” and next to all of the eclectic tributaries away from the Rock River on that album, it ended up being my clear favorite on an album which has always been something of an acquired taste for me.

Lyrically, the song surprises since with Blondie’s retro kitsch rep, one would think that it was about the car, or maybe a street gang, but it’s actually about the Native American totem from whence everything else cribs the name. The middle eight has a spoken word recitation by Ms. Harry that 36 years of listening has not fully divined.

The constant, tribal percussion throughout the song was another nod to the religious significance of the titular bird, but did you notice how the roller-rink organ of Jimmy Destri played against this beat throughout the song, giving a touch of ska to this number? In fact, it was somewhat redolent of the rhythmic keyboard sound of the previous year’s “Flex” by Lene Lovich albeit cross-bred with the closest this album came to Phil Spector territory. I find it hard to believe that this track was never released as a single anywhere in the world, but closer examination of Blondie’s output in 1980 reveals that all three of the singles they released that year went to number one in America [and all over the world, for that matter].

  • Call Me
  • The Tide is High
  • Rapture

Yow! Is that world-straddling success, or what?! Of course, from this acme, things could only go downhill for Blondie. But that’s another story for next time.

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Song Of The Day: Robert Palmer – You Are In My System

Island Records | US | 12" | 1983 | 0-96996

Island Records | US | 12″ | 1983 | 0-96996

Robert Palmer: You Are In My System US 12″ [1983]

  1. You Are In My System [12″ remix]
  2. Deadline

It’s been a long time since there was a legit Song of the Day. Usually, whatever project I am working on has a tune that gets lodged in my skull or a record I am planning on writing a review of gets all the headspace. Not so with this one, which has been going strong for about 48 hours so far! I remember first hearing this one the year it came out on MTV with the brutal 3:00 7″ edit, which was still enough to alert me to its awesomeness. At that time, I only owned a copy of the “Clues” album and was still mostly ignoring Palmer as a boring mainstream rock guy who “slummed in New Wave” on his 1980 album. Though I appreciated this song a lot even when just seeing the video, I never bothered to pick up a copy of the “Pride” album from whence this tune came. My friend Tom saw the cover to that album with me in Crunchy Armadillo Records and asked about Palmer and I dissuaded him from looking too carefully at it. It’s true. I was a jerk.

<…flash forward five years>

It was after seeing Palmer the first time in concert on the “Heavy Nova” tour in 1988 that I soon went to a store afterward and bought the CD of “Pride” afterward since the tracks played from this on that show were most beguiling. I now had the longer 4:20 album version of this absolutely killer cover version. On the shiny silver disc as well. all good, but my Palmer collection was pretty spotty for another decade following even that time. It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that I began to get a far-too-late yen to hear more of Palmer. I began buying as many CDs as I ran across. As of last year, I began the collection of 12″ singles for the alternate versions and remixes out in the wild. Yes, one day there will be a REVO collection of non-LP Palmer goodness and this 12″ single is already among the tracks earmarked for that project.

I was aware that the song had come from a band eponymously named The System and it has come to the market a year prior to Palmer’s cover on “Pride.” In a genius move that saw the perfect wheel not being reinvented much, Palmer enlisted the tune’s writer/player/programmer David Frank of The System to replicate his work on Palmer’s cover. What’s that saying… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? This meant that the impeccably funky electro music bed that was the ideal fusion of syncopated electrofunk and tightly programmed machine soul was every bit as crucial as the original by The System, which had certainly made waves for their cause the earlier year.

There were two critical areas where Palmer’s version aced the already excellent original; the Simmons drums and drum programming on Palmer’s cover pushed this right over the top, where it became a peak electro experience. The hard beats on Palmer’s version simply cannot be topped. The coup de grace was finally, Palmer’s vocal. He really put his stamp on the song and in a dramatic way. Palmer has unbridled power that System vocalist Mic Murphy could have only dreamed of.

The 12″ mix that is stuck to my mind like flypaper was courtesy of Dominique Blanc-Francard, who mixed the album it came from. This meant that the 12″ mix, which extended the experience to a sweet [and brief sounding] 6:07 simply added an extended instrumental intro with some vamping and instilled a 12-bar instrumental dub breakdown at the song’s midpoint that worked for me.

robert palmer - youareinmysystem92UKP12AI see that there is another 12″ promo mix ca. 1992 by Eric Kupper concurrent with the release of the “Addictions” volumes of Palmer hits [often remixed/recut] but the track seems to be a house version [cue foghorn foley effect] of the song, as mandated by Club Law of the time period. Sad, really. I will probably buy a copy of this at one point because of the collector’s sickness, but otherwise, I can’t recommend it in good faith. The postmodern remix of this song that I would pay serious money for though, would be the dub mix that Todd Terje should immediately create of this powerhouse of a song! Hear it in your skull and join me in saying “y-e-e-e-e-e-eeeeeah!!” to that notion.

In the meantime, here’s a grey market mix that manages to not walk all over the tune.

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Record Review: Our Daughters Wedding – Digital Cowboy

EMI America | US | EP | 1981 | MLP-19000

EMI America | US | EP | 1981 | MLP-19000

Our Daughters Wedding: Digital Cowboy US EP [1981]

  1. Target For Life
  2. Red Alert
  3. Lawnchairs
  4. Dance Floor
  5. No One Is Watching
ODW - lawnchairsUS7A

Design Records | US | 7″ | 1980 | ODW913LR

Here was another record I read about in the pages of Billboard prior to its release. The 1980 indie 7″ release of the single “Lawnchairs” had made waves on the “rock disco” chart that the magazine published and the band was featured as they signed to EMI America and set about to record their five song EP for the major label. It was 1981; the labels were pushing the EP format since it was a cheaper investment that sold for less than an LP price in the middle of a recession where not only was the dollar pinched, but these things called video games were siphoning money from the pockets of youth all across America in preference to records [!] to the extent that even the record industry was suffering from a recession after a decade of explosive growth.

I bought this EP probably when it got released, sometime during the Summer of 1981 as I was either just preparing to enter college or was a raw green freshman. I was all over technopop pregnant with synthesizers at the time, and this record was on e of the few US-based examples of the form. The appearance of Colin Thurston in the producers chair was a fairly auspicious omen, with his engineering and production work by this time encompassing the Iggy Pop/Bowie Berlin axis as well as Post-Punk giants Magazine and young upstarts Duran Duran.

“Target For Life” featured  lots of frantically played eighth and sixteenth notes over the solid beat of sessionmaster Simon Philips on skins as well as member Layne Rico’s Synare® providing the urgent timing. We know they were frantically played because the EP’s cover assured us that “no sequencers used.” The familiar New Wave trope of paranoia reared its head here, and vocalist Keith Silva’s vocals were appropriately enervated. That the synths were played and not sequenced probably added to the human feel by having the timing less than microchip perfect. It probably made for a more exciting live show as they had to maintain a certain energy level to play this stuff live.

omd - messagesUK10AThe band recut a new version of their breakout hit “Lawnchairs” for this EP and having heard only an iTunes sample of the original 7″ version, the song sounded almost identical, but for the electronic percussion on the original. What that means was that as much as OMD’s “Electricity” was a faster recording of “Radioactivity” by Kraftwerk, “Lawnchairs” was a two note inversion of the familiar “Messages” riff by OMD. I remember reading an interview with Keith Silva in the pages of Trouser Press and he was waxing eloquent over the godlike superiority of the 10″ version of “Messages” as an example of synthpop nirvana. Well, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, since the riffs are almost identical. It says much about the durability of the riffs used that having been familiar with the OMD record first, I still would allow this one to exist if I ran the world. As much of an OMD knockoff as it is, it’s still a great record!

ODQ - movingwindowsUSLPAThings got more interesting on the B-side of the EP with music that seemed more musically complex with “Dance Floor” featuring some great bass synth work from Scott Simon. The arrangement of this one and the following number, “No One’s Watching” step away from the singsong pleasures of a track like “Lawnchairs.” The five tracks vary in tone and intensity while being cut from similar sound design cloth. It’s decent enough music but I suppose it spoke volumes that when the first [and last] ODW album, “Moving Windows” appeared the following year, I didn’t bother picking up a copy; even a used promo copy.

By 1985, I severely thinned out my vinyl chaff for CD trade value and this record was a casualty of the Great Vinyl Purge. I did relent some time in the early 90s when I bought a copy of the EP after seeing it in the used bins at Murmur Records [or maybe Alobar by that time] and it’s sat in my Record Cell ever since. I finally spun it to the hard drive a week or two ago and it’s a fine EP, but nothing more. There was a fairly comprehensive Almacantar CD of ODW that compiled most, if not all, of their output that was released ten years ago that I dawdled on buying and now it’s a three figure disc. I guess I’m fine with that!

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Record Review: Blondie – Eat To The Beat [part 3]

blondie---eattothebeatposter<…continued from previous post>

While “Union City Blue” alluded to Shadow Morton’s roots in the band’s world view, that song was certainly more of its time than a straight pastiche. Not so much for the fully retro “Slow Motion” with its bouncy James Jamerson bass lines and tambourine hits. Liza Minnelli’s half-sister, Lorna Luft, doubled here with Debbie on the strictly period backing vocals that simply sparkled. If it was good enough for Blue Angel [the following year], surely the NYC band that started it all can work that girl group action like the pros they were?

blondie - atomicUS7AThe last single in the program was the rock-disco hybrid “Atomic,” which topped the UK charts but only managed to muster a scant scrape into the US Top 40 at a lowly #39! The pressure packed Clem Burke drumming was served here by some of the most prominent bass on the album and incongruous on the surface of it, twangy guitar chords. Since keyboardist Destri wrote the music here, he finally got to cut loose with the synths on this track the most on this album. His Moroderesque envelope on the synth hook [possibly pulse gating and not a sequencer] was a clear harbinger of the band’s next move, “Call Me” written and produced with the disco master. The breakdown in the middle eight gave bassist Harrison a chance to steal the spotlight for a couple of bars. It was a dynamic rock disco hybrid, held back only by the [I’m guessing] deliberately banal and sketchy lyrics that were there only to have a Debbie presence on the instrumentally-driven song.

The album took a breather on the gentle ballad “Sound-A-Sleep” which certainly functioned as a lullaby on this normally energetic to a fault album. All the better t=for the ultimate in contrasts when the bombastic and furious “Victor” followed. The song was like nothing else in the Blondie canon. The Frank Infante written number was structured like a hysterical dialogue between Anastasia and her paramour, Victor, who had left her for practical reasons, delivered in a letter to her as the song’s third verse, pledging to return when the conditions [war? revolution?] permitted.

The track simply explodes out of the already kinetic framework of the album. This time Burke has some real competition for the spotlight with Infante’s curiously Fripp-like tightly coiled guitar riffs circling throughout the song. While the breakneck drums and guitars battle it out, the vocalists aren’t playing shrinking violet. Debbie Harry is bleeding into the red for her entire performance here! She must have been wrecked after committing this one to tape but even the stentorian Soviet Men’s Chorus vocals that Infante, Destri and producer Mike Chapman [The Jah Trio] provide here are a thing of wonder even in themselves.

Finally the album ended with another frantic burst of energy in “I’m Not Living In The Real World.” Ms. Harry once again dipped into her bag of tricks for some more unfettered energy on the screaming chorus to the thrashing punk number keyboardist Destri penned with Harry. The album had a much stronger rock vibe than any other albums in their classic canon, where pop usually won out over rock. Mike Chapman produced for the second time, but crucially, he had David Tickle as an engineer in the sessions. I quickly noticed the name since the album sounded so impossibly lush yet crisp; a sonic feast where usually one of those dishes is missing. Within a half a year, we would notice David Tickle again when he produced the “True Colours” album by Split Enz; another feast of glimmering pop sonics that managed to break that band in North America.

blondie - eattothebeatJPNLDASo, sure, this was a peak album by one of the most significant US New Wave bands, but it managed to be groundbreaking in one other fashion, beyond its energetic songs, fantastic singing and the incredible drumming of Clem Burke. “Eat To The Beat” was also the first full video album ever released to home video. I recall that Warner Home Video released four video tapes to the tiny [at the time] home market and these were Gary Numan’s “Touring Principle” live concert, Dire Straits “Making Movies,” a Fleetwood Mac live video and “Eat To The Beat.” This had to have been the first time that music videos had been made for every song on an album. I wanted it on βeta in the 80s, but by the decade’s end, I had gotten the Japanese laserdisc of the title as seen at left.

Capitol Records | US | CD + DVD | 2007 | 09463-90638-2-6

Capitol Records | US | CD + DVD | 2007 | 09463-90638-2-6

While the 1987 Laserdisc of the title is still in mono, like the original videotape, EMI has come to the rescue of fans with the 2007 reissue of the album, which sported the video album on DVD as a buyer’s premium. I can’t tell you if it’s in 1.0, 2.0, or 5.1 or not, though as I do not have a copy.

After this album dominated by late 1979 like few others, it seemed like there was no end in sight for the conquering heroes of New Wave. Little did I know that the band would never hit the heights that this album seemed to effortlessly achieve. Artistically, any way. None of the three singles released in America proved to be successful followups to “Heart Of  Glass” or even “One Way Or Another.” The album joined the Platinum Club within nine months – entirely appropriate to a classic album that somehow managed to give the single charts a miss. Though Mike Chapman would produce their next two albums, it could have almost been another band entirely by that time. The group’s POV would get stretched to the breaking point on the insanely eclectic “Autoamerican” the next year, but the group would certainly not suffer commercially for it! If this album had: power pop, widescreen ballads, funk rock, disco, New Wave, reggae, girl group pastiche, and punk rock, then the next one would cast an even wider net.

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Posted in Core Collection, Record Review, Records I Used To Own | Tagged , | 11 Comments