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Baker's Dozen

Free, Open Spaces: Brian Eno's Favourite Records
William Doyle , April 13th, 2016 10:00

Before he releases his new album The Ship, the composer, producer and artist gives William Doyle a tour of some of his favourite records and tracks, reflecting on how they've shaped his own approach to music


Fela Ransome-Kuti & The Africa '70 – Afrodisiac
I found a very interesting thing out about Tony Allen. I was thinking, "How did he get to that music?" In my opinion, Afrobeat really grew out of his drumming more than anything else. I mean, Fela was of course totally important to it and realised what you could build around that, but I think there was nothing else you could find that sounds like Tony at that time. So I was asking a friend of mine about this, Joe Boyd, the record producer, and he said that the story with Tony was that he was the only subscriber to Downbeat magazine in West Africa when he was about 18 or 19. In one edition there was a supplement by Max Roach, the jazz drummer, about hi-hat technique and Tony got completely fascinated by this article about how you balance the hi-hat with the rest of the kit. So Tony came from the history of Nigerian drumming and then he saw this article by Max Roach and that was the sort of thing that galvanised him really.

Afrodisiac has four songs and they're all absolutely brilliant. There's no disappointment on the album at all. On later records there's quite a lot of fat, the pieces go on and on and sometimes they're a bit aimless, but Afrodisiac I suppose was being made as an attempt to push Fela over here, so instead of a piece taking a whole side it takes only half a side. I used to go to this record shop just off Tottenham Court Road called Sterns and that was a place where you could buy records from other countries, so a lot of Africans went there because you could buy West African records there. I used to sniff around there as I was just fascinated by all the covers. All these people with amazing headdresses on and you think, "Christ, I really want to hear that record, I wonder what that sounds like." So I saw that cover and bought it entirely on that. I thought, that sounds good, it's got the cheesiest title you could have. I took it home and just thought, fuck, the vigour of it and the Nigerian strength [laughs], the rudeness of it. The horns, when I heard them, I had this picture of these huge trucks on the Trans-African Highway and they have these enormous compressed air horns and that is what the horns on the record sounded like to me. They were so un-glamourised. They didn't have that kind of 'jazzy' soft, smoochy sound, they were just "fucking get out of my fucking way!"

When I first met Talking Heads, the first meeting I ever had with them, they had been playing in London and they came over to my flat to talk about me working on their next album. So I said, "This is the future of music", and I played them Afrodisiac, and to their credit they were incredibly impressed by it. If you listen to the third album we did together (Remain In Light) it's so influenced by that. It's sort of shameful in a way.