Friday, March 06, 2009

the 80s bass player dance

That Teardrop Explodes performance featured in my last post is great when you've got the view from inside Julian Cope's head. What caught my objective eye, though, was the over-agitated bass player Alfie Agius.

There was this thing in the 1980s, the Bass Player Dance, a sort of smooth disjointedness seemingly pioneered by Andy McClusky, of which Agius' Top Of The Pops performance is a notably vigorous variant.

What was it about the time that made background musicians like bassists and keyboard players try to be more kinetic than the guitarist?

I mean, those slung-round-the-neck 'keytar' keyboard thingies, sheesh.

Keytar player leaping in the air like a guitar hero. And looking a right twat doing it.

Anyway, Youtube doesn't just have that Teardrop Explodes performance, it also comes up trumps with the man who is, to my mind, the king of 80s bass player dancing, Mick Anker out of Blow Monkeys.

I don't expect you to sit through all four minutes of this, obviously, but check him out at 1.13-1.17, 2.38-2.42, and his peerless masterclass at 3.57-4.02.

Were Blow Monkeys really big enough to warrant the accoutrements of the overpaid 80s band; the keyboard player, backing singers and percussionist? Or was the ubiquitous Steve Sidelnyk available as cheap labour on some government training scheme?

Amazingly, evidence points us towards them having real clout. A little dig around finds a single they recorded with Curtis Mayfield! Curtis Fucking Mayfield!

I wonder if Anker was his real name. Imagine going to school with that, how every written incidence will get its W prefix.

Maybe it's what put the fire under him. There's that cliche about the disproportionate number of performers who had a parent die at a formative age, or else those who were done down at school. I remember an Oasis interview - their records are worthless, the interviews priceless - where Noel said his music teacher had told him he'd never amount to anything, and 'if you're watching Mr Taylor, would you like to borrow a tenner?'.

By the same token you can imagine Mick Anker thinking 'I'm on stage at fucking Wembley, try putting a W on the front of my exercise books now'.

I raised the issue with a friend, who picked up on Anker's Clockwork Orange overtones.

That Mick Anker was a veritable Sum Total of all '80s moves done on bass AND he's a hard-looking bowler hatted geezer who would've consumed Alfie Agius, Gary Tibbs and Pino Palladino for breakfast!

Achieving such a crap sub-sub-Ashes To Ashes sound is created by a thumb-and-forefinger technique known as 'pulls', which is why bassist James Eller - on the promotional material for Julian Cope's World Shut Your Mouth single - declared that he 'knows no pulls'! Quite astute for the time.

Pulls - those hard metallic cling noises, really prominent in the medium paced instrumental bit of 99 Red Balloons (0.54-1.05) - were another variant of 80s bass trying to overstep its mark and grab unwarranted limelight, like thumb-slaps and fretless slides, all of them sort of audio equivalents of the bass player dance.

In the 1950s people in jazz bands must've thought the same thing when guitar came forward from a feel-it rhythm instrument to a loud lead. But hell, twenty years on we had Jimmies Hendrix and Page, whereas twenty years on from 80s bassists what have we got in bass prominence? Another fucking Level 42 reunion.

I say again, sheesh.

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