, April 18th, 2008 00:00
By John Doran
The second you step over the threshold of Piccadilly's Pigalle Club, away from the disappointed-looking throngs of American and Japanese tourists, the thin streaks of neon illuminating kerbside pools of water, besuited drunks being ferried around by cycle rickshaw, you enter his world. As soon as you are away from the underemployed sketch artists who know this is Piccadilly not Times Square; Blackpool not Paris, then you are with him. The faded glamour of the jazz club is timeless; everyone's in Interzone tonight, even if they only live ten stops away on the tube. A statuesque Pam Grier lookalike purrs us into the club, but over her head a black and white CCTV monitor flickers. I can see myself on it and my colleagues but not the woman. How strange...
Downstairs it's all brass and mahogany, suited couples, timeslip, vortex, rum and coke. Mr Adamson twirls onto stage and lashes out at “polite dinner jazz” before bursting into a staccato rap " a rasping palimpsest of New York beatnik verbiage, pose and pronunciation inscribed carefully over the 1970s Moss Side, Manchester original. And finally we're seeing him with everything he needs; steel brushes on loosely tuned snare skin and skittering hi-hat, mournfully muted trumpet, dishevelled 2am organ...He plays a heavy set heavy with tracks from The Return Of The Cat, once again re-entering the territory of heroin sick jazz and queasy lounge music. He picks up a Stylophone and plays it against the kind of grooves that had David Lynch phoning him up and asking him to collaborate on The Lost Highway. He strikes it with a light hand but an insistent frown until he realizes it isn't plugged in. He then gives it a disdainful look before carrying on regardless.
He was Manchester's Tom Waits when no one was looking; the provincial post punk William Burroughs; the neo big band Nick Cave. “This is a love song of sorts”, he deadpans. “This is the feeling that you get when one door shuts...and another one closes.” Welcome to the wonderful and strange world of Barry Adamson.
1. Magazine Real Life (Virgin)
Everyone from Paul Morley to Peter Hook, Morrissey to Mick Hucknall was at the infamous Sex Pistols gigs at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. However, only Howard Devoto was forward-looking enough to promote them. Getting bored with punk before it had even begun, he went on to form Magazine, the first post punk band to release an album. Among his backline was a young Adamson, who turned up for his audition with a borrowed bass with only two strings. Highlight: ’The Light Pours Out Of Me'
2. Magazine The Correct Use Of Soap (Virgin)
After the sophomore slump of Secondhand Daylight, the outfit backed away from Dave Formula's glacial and claustrophobic synth sound and embraced the idea of mechanical, scratchy funk, as exemplified on their cover of Sly Stone's 'Thank You...' Elsewhere Adamson is finally finding his feet as a fluid and funky bassist, providing a sublime counterpoint to John McGeoch's chiming guitars. Highlight: ’A Song From Under The Floorboards'
3. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds From Her To Eternity (Mute)
After the collapse of Magazine, Adamson was a gun for hire and was quickly recruited into the first incarnation of Nick Cave's post Birthday Party outfit, The Bad Seeds. He, along with Mick Harvey, was responsible for reigning in the punkish chaos and anchoring Cave's tortuous Old Testament tales of murder, loss and redemption to a vigorous backline. Starting with a gruelling cover of Leonard Cohen's ’Avalanche' and the fan favourite ’Cabin Fever!', this still remains one of the best Bad Seed albums to date. Highlight: ’St Huck'
4. Barry Adamson ’Moss Side Story' (Mute)
After four albums with the Bad Seeds, Adamson didn't quit because of the usual ’musical differences' but rather quoted his own health. Given the band's use of alcohol and heroin at the time in Berlin, one can believe this. He claimed that Moss Side Story was the David Lynch “soundtrack to a non-existent film” that he'd always wanted to make. Many see this album, which also features Diamanda Galas, as his best. Highlight (on reissue): ’The Man With The Golden Arm'
5. Barry Adamson Oedipus Schmoedipus (Mute)
The nearest Adamson ever came to a commercial smash featuring as it does the sublimely funny virgin's lament ’Set Controls To Heart Of The Pelvis' featuring Jarvis Cocker and Nick Cave's sublime croon on ’The Sweetest Embrace'. Elsewhere, however, the album has the honour of containing probably one of the most terrifying tracks ever committed to tape, ’It's Business As Usual' which features a litany of messages left on the answering machine of a stalking victim. Highlight: ’The Big Bamboozle'
6. Various Artists The Lost Highway OST (Mute)
King of outsider cinema David Lynch and Adamson were almost destined to work together, they share such a dystopian view of modern society through a cracked and bloodied lens. Speaking to me three years ago he said: “It was very strange when he got in touch with me; I'd just had a hip replacement operation and I was in a wheelchair and writing a piece of music just because I was so fucked off with everything and depressed. So I wrote this piece of dramatic music " the first I'd written in eight months - just because I'd been feeling so sorry for myself and a few hours later the phone went and it was Lynch. He said he was going to send me a scene to see if we could work together and the piece that I wrote that night ended up being used in that scene in the film.”
7. Barry Adamson As Above, So Below (Mute)
By 1998 Barry was ready, temporarily, to hang up his progressive experimental persona and fully explore his ’jazz devil' incarnation. This meant no turntables, no electronica and no rapping. Instead we have the exposed underbelly of the city at night; a neon drenched cab ride through town at midnight, taking lounges, bordellos, jazz bars, altercations outside of restaurants and the odd illicit rendezvous. Highlight: ’Can't Get Loose'
8. Barry Adamson The King Of Nothing Hill (Mute)
And so it continues, with that old devil called Barry getting smoother and smoother in search of your soul. The prescient use of lounge funk, 60s French disco, Lalo Schiffrin style car chase fusion are all blended to form the signature music to his new alter-ego Satisfaction Jackson, the Satanic Pimp. He still maintained it was modern music however: “There is that swap between the old fashioned sounding and the very futuristic. The whole premise of the record is about this dichotomy. It is about me being beside myself; the age old thing of duality. There is a yearning for things not to be like they are but a realisation that things are what they are.” Highlight: Black Amour
If Moss Side Story was his masterpiece in the soundtrack to an imaginary film stakes then this was the equivalent in his modern, jazz noir. He had recently left Mute records and set up his own Central Control record label and set out his stall amazingly by playing nigh-on everything himself. Unwilling to make anything easy for himself he tackled different musical styles, with the most notable example of this being the lovelorn sea shanty ’The Long Way Back Again'. Talking about working on his own he said: “There's a little bit of guitar and a little bit of organ on this one where I got people in but that's it. It's about authorship really. It's not about showing the world I can do it or anything like that; it's just personal that's all. I was reading this piece on Bernard Hermann where he was going on about all the awards he had won and saying that they were all well and good but the day after the awards ceremony it was just him and his piano at 8am the next morning.” Highlight: 'Who Killed Big Bird?'
- Barry Adamson Back To The Cat (Central Control)
Like Ronseal, Back To The Cat does exactly what it says on the tin. It takes us back to all of Adamson's cool roots. ’The Beaten Side Of Town' glides along on double bass, lightly brushed drums and the blissful glissando of vibes. ’Straight ’Til Sunrise' is a serotonin pumped auto anthem with horns and B-3 set to cruise control. ’Spend A Little Time' is a saucy rattling Latin number that sees a lovelorn would be suitor promising the object of his affections that he hasn't been smoking crack. The spirit of The Righteous Brothers is resurrected on ’I Could Love You' that sees Mr A indulging in a seriously badass falsetto. Highlight: ’Shadow Of A Death Hotel'