Monday, April 20, 2015

34: Night Birds - Shakatak

From September 1987 to December 1992, Late Night Sou' West was nightly two-hour radio programme on BBC Radios Devon and Cornwall, presented by one Chris Langmore. A few years ago I wrote a blog entry about that, so no need to repeat here, but "Night Birds" by Shakatak was the theme tune.

Dating from a few years earlier, it's basically jazz-funk with some wonderfully flowing guitar and piano solos. I have no idea if they're musically complex solos or not - they sound complex to my untrained ear but they might just be running their fingers up and down the keyboard for all I know. And that's a key point here - I'm not a jazz fan, not at all. Jazz to me is just four or five people playing different stuff at the same time - basically the same complaint I have about Bach but with the blue notes added in. There's usually little structure or direction and the whole thing is a mind-numbing experience, similar to listening to politicians or watching golf. I once spent five hours at a Chicago jazz club with my father and father-in-law because I thought it was the Right Thing To Do, and it was without doubt one of the most harmful experiences my brain has ever encountered. Five hours of not just nothing - silence would have been infinitely preferable - but of constant, thrumming, soft sounds of double-bass and snare drums playing random stuff that went precisely nowhere by a very circuitous route. Visiting the bathroom and flushing the toilet to drown it out was my only means of survival.

Anyway, you get the point, and there won't be any Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie featuring as we go up the list, rest assured. But here's the weird thing: I really really like "Night Birds". And not just because I can still hear Alan Dedicoat (yes, the same one, he used to work for Radio Devon) saying over the intro "On thirteen transmitters, across the westcountry, this is Late Night Sou' West.. with Chris Langmore." It's something I don't really understand musically - I have no clues what the chords are, let alone the sequences, although I can pick out the notes in some of the solos. It's something I can therefore very easily just let wash over me without any danger of me thinking about harmonies and how I might play it. I can just listen to it. Over and over and over.

And the strongest bit, probably, is the middle section where the weird eighties keyboard noise gives way to the guitar solo and then to the piano that eventually starts climbing, climbing, climbing to the summit, beat of silence, then we start again from the top. It has shape, a little like a David Gilmour guitar solo, it actually has some form, which in some ways separate it from my normal view of jazz (I'm told jazz has form and shape, I just can't see it, like a musical form of colour-blindness or something, I just can't get it). Lyrics pretty meaningless but fitting with the music, and the ad-lib section at the end not so good, but overall it's jazz-funk that I can listen to over and over.

And now, so can you.

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