Held up by contractual disputes and only available as an unfinished bootleg, this is the first time it can be heard as it was initially planned.
The idea for Sleepjunk started as we worked on our second album, Wisdom & Lies. Around that time I bought a Sony Pro-Walkman and microphone. I immediately set about recording stuff around me, and used some of the recordings on the record – for instance you can hear the sound of me walking through the tunnel under the railway of Culvert Street in Battersea, the inside of my fridge, me banging on an old hubcap… We also recorded the sound of tube tickets stuck into the spokes of spinning bike wheels…
Soon after finishing that record we got a sampler, and I set about continuing what I had started on Wisdom & Lies. The idea was to create an entire soundworld for the music to sit in which could also continue between the tunes. I wanted to make a continuous unified album rather than just a bunch of seperate tracks.
To that end I made loops out of whatever I could get my hands on. I had always collected anything that made a sound, so I used everything in my flat- a tiny toy keyboard, bells, old zithers, thumb-pianos, records, TV, etc… I hung up bits of broken glass, old metal ashtrays and metal pipes and then sampled them…
I worked on this continuously, and whenever I came up with something which I liked, I used my Walkman to record it onto tape. I ended up with boxes full of tapes, and these are what we used on the album.
So a large chunk of Sleepjunk was actually recorded by me in my flat months before going into the studio.
Most of the loops where deliberately quite simple, so they could be easily mixed into the music. Some were a little more complex, and I gathered these on another tape marked “ENC In-betweens”. One of these took on its own life and became “The Sleepwalker”, the only track on the album based entirely on my loops. The tape also included little fragments of music, beats etc…
So when Acid Jazz asked me to put the record together I dug out my old “ENC In-betweens” tape and set about putting it all together over a couple of months. The result is as close as I could get to my original idea from thirty years ago. I was always a little disappointed with some of the mixing decisions taken with the tunes, feeling that the sounds were used quite conservatively. Finally adding some of my original ideas restores the balance slightly…
Ian Girdlestone helped me in the original process. I only had two hands, and I was pretty busy playing saxophones, keyboards and melodica, as well as teaching myself how to play the trumpet… So I gave Ian all my tapes, along with two tape players and a DJ mixer. He would come to rehearsals and gigs, and work out where to put the sounds. This live-mixing of raw tapes could create some wonderful sound chaos which sadly got rather lost on the record.
Heading Oout (Past Mendota Tower)
For years I practiced every night under a railway arch in Brixton. Every few minutes a train would pass overhead loudly, and that just became part of the soundworld that I played in.
Sometimes I would play along on my saxophone, using the train rhythms, but when I got the loan of a Rhodes piano I started playing along using that. Soon I came up with what we called, rather unimaginitively, “Train Piece”. I wrote the whole thing in the arch as a solo piece. Later, the band played along with it.
Always on the look out for sounds, I was also collecting old LPs of trains. I used one to make a rhythm loop for the track. Ian Girdlestone then found a better-sounding train record than any of mine, and so he used that on the recording to add the train sounds- including the guard in the Mendota tower…
The intro is mostly just me with the Rhodes pushing a valve amp to the limit, stamping on the pedal and using extreme volume pans.
This tune has plenty of my loop tapes all over it: You can hear William Burroughs distorted through an old tape machine, bits of short-wave radio, a slowed-down woodpecker, crickets, breathing onto a mic via my valve amp, zither played with and without a plectrum, & a religious service I took from the radio…
As well as the Rhodes I played melodica with my wah-wah pedal, alto sax and a bulbul tarang I’d picked up in Southall…
I’d been experimenting with loops of slowed-down gamelan music, and ended up just using one, which was the basis for this tune.
I also thought of Dream III as being gamelan related, athough I don’t think it’s in a pelog scale or anything…
This tune started with Luke’s colossal bass line.
I wrote the moog tune and melodica part over it in a rehearsal studio.
The keyboard sounds at the beginning I made using my old toy Casio keyboard, which was about 8 by 2 inches in size… I recorded it at home using an old tape machine to get the wobbly sound and sampled it to make loops.
This track also features one of my favourite tapes, but mixed too low in my opinion.
I made it during a cold spell on Clapham Common, when the ponds froze over.
I set my microphone up at the side of a pond and threw shards of ice so they shattered next to the microphone. This sounded really explosive and shot from left to right in the stereo field.
I wanted this to really explode out of the speakers in the mix, but it didn’t happen.
You can also hear loops I made using an old short wave radio throughout the track.
One of my least favourite parts of the record is the beats at the end, which always sounded like wannabe DJ Shadow to me (“Endtroducing” was big at the time) and had nothing to do with the music…
This is the only track on the album based entirely on my loops.
I made the whole thing in my flat out of loops, all going at their own speeds and phasing with each other. There’s no programming.
The main thing which I used was a single glissando note from a performance of Rag Lalit.
The note bent upwards in pitch, so I copied it and turned the copy backwards so that it now bent downwards. Then I joined the two samples and looped the result, which now went up and down in pitch like a sine wave. Then I played the loop a multiple speeds which pretty much created the whole piece.
I added a rhythm loop and a flute loop.
Finally I slowed a sample of some of my bells being dropped onto the floor and added that every so often.
We later took it to Acid Jazz’s studio, working with just an engineer, and added more drums & bass then did a quick mix.
Acid Jazz then lost the multitrack. So all I had left was the stereo reference tape.
Sussan Deyhim later improvised her vocal part in one take over the stereo tape.
It’s a shame it never got a full mix, but I like it all the same. Especially Sussan’s performance.
I had pitched down the last chords from two different jazz tunes and found that they worked with Luke’s latest bass line, so that’s how this one started. Over time we added the middle part with the Rhodes chords.
The keyboard sounds I made using a tiny toy Casio keyboard, about three by ten inches in size. I recorded it using an old cheap tape machine to get the wobbly sound, and then sampled it to make something sounding like a Mellotron.
There’s also some sounds I made using the borrowed Moog…
The voice & baby I took from a film on TV. And there’s lots of a tape I made using an LP of bidsong with the turntable switched off…
This piece came about through my sound-making explorations and shows the kind of process which I went through to make the music.
I’ve always loved bells and would have had “Art Ensemble of Chicago” style racks of percussion if it had been possible. Since money was short I was restricted to frequenting charity shops for things like old brass ash-trays or bowls that made a good sound. I collected these over a long period and hung them up as bells in my flat. After a while I found that some of them together made a good scale, so I hung them up in a vertical line. I could then zing up and down the line with a six-inch nail, which sounded great. I could also play little melodies, and so I wrote the tune by tapping the bells with the nail.
I then made tapes of the sound of me zinging along the line of bells. To make it sound better I would zing down the line first, and then bring the microphone in close and move it along the line, making spooky changing ringing tones as it moved from bell to bell. I also tuned an old broken auto-harp to the scale and made tapes of me playing it, along with a bunch of seperate samples made by playing it with varying intensity.
So in any live performance of “Strange Charm”, Ian would mix together the multiple tapes I had made of the bells and zithers, and zither samples were triggered by Dave. This is what happened on the record- all the sounds were actually recorded in my flat, long before we went into the studio…
More Bodies Than Souls
This started with Luke’s idea that with exponential population growth, at some point there would be more people alive than had ever lived.
I made the vocal samples in my flat, as always.
I sampled myself saying “More Bodies than Souls!” and turned it backwards.
Then I imitated the sound of my backwards voice and sampled that.
Then I turned that sample backwards to end up forwards sounding.
It sounded pretty good so I got Ian to come over and do the same thing.
I pre-recorded the saxophone part with my Walkman, playing solo in the railway arch, and then spun it in off cassette over the track…
Another of my piano pieces with the band playing along.
I called it Twister as my fingers tended to get tied in knots playing it.
The opening sounds I made by sampling the sound of saucepan lids spinning and then speeding it up.
The high-pitched electronic sounds that float in after a while were made by recording the rings of different bells onto tape and then splicing them all together, sampling the result and speeding it up. Dream VIII was made the same way, but slowed down…
This was a bit of an unfinished idea for me- I wanted a full brass section playing the horn lines in 5 against the band rocking in 4.
It never happened.
But it was a fun piece to play live.
I enjoyed making the siren sound using a borrowed Moog Prodigy. The idea was to have the band in 4, the horn line in 5, and the siren doing its thing in another time. That way everything phased…
Like with “The Sleepwalker” I made a sample of me bending a note up, and then joined it to a backwards copy going down to make a balanced siren.
I treated my neighbors to the sound of me blasting the moog through an old Italian valve amp to get an overdriven sound.
I used that amp to distort many of the sounds on the album as it had an imput which gave a harsh treble tone. That imput was marked “Jazz”, as opposed to “Normale” which was slightly less harsh. I took a photo of the two imputs for the album cover…
The track also features loops I made of backwards thumb pianos.
And speech from one of my favourite jazz musicians…
Pedestrian Jazz Dance
We also spent three days at Acid Jazz Studios during the same period, with just an engineer and no producer. This is where we recorded The Sleepwalker, which is mostly just my loops with no programming. We recorded some other ideas as well, and one was a piece I had written reflecting my love of Sun Ra. “Pedestrian Jazz Dance” was an attempt at making a big-band piece- without having a big-band.
It was played live in the studio, with Ian mixing tapes in live. He also added a laugh-in-a-bag toy. It shows how Ian’s mixing worked with the band. The tapes include one I called “Vari-speed Drips”, and one I made by putting some jazz vibrophone music through extreme echo and reverb to make clouds of sound.
I added horn-section overdubs, piano, and some flourishes using a penny whistle with a saxophone mouthpiece put on it…
Unfortunately, Acid Jazz lost the multitracks for everything we recorded over those three days, and so all that’s left comes from rough mixes done on the spot for reference purposes. For that reason “Pedestrian Jazz Dance” didn’t make it onto the album, although I like it for what it is. It shows another side of what was happening and has some un-tidied-up chaos in it. I did what I could to bring out what was there and I’ve posted it on Soundcloud. Anyone interested can listen to it HERE.
I wrote this straight after the main recording sessions. It was a hard time and I needed something to keep my head together. So I started with two chords- a simple “Amen”- and wrote a hymn…
I went into Acid Jazz studios for a couple of hours with Luke Hannam, and we recorded it straight off, using Fender Rhodes and acoustic bass. Then I overdubbed some zither.
It was the last time we played together, and shortly afterwards, Luke announced that he was sick of the music and was leaving the band.