May 23rd, 2018 will see the release of yet another ambitious and impressive project led by the superb Andy Gell. This time, The 400 have been harnessed in a musical form to raise funds for two great causes.
Andy Gell delivers the story…
From The Ashes: The400 Remix Project Story by Andy Gell
In 1982, Brian Eno said ‘The Velvet Underground didn’t sell many records in their lifetime, but everyone who bought one formed a band.’
Well in 2017, around 400 strangers went to Liverpool. They were given a book and told to respond to it. This is the story of some of their responses.
I’m going to misquote Ken Campbell really badly here, but he once described the difference between theatre people and science fiction people. Suggestions to theatre people often generated a ‘yes, but…’ response, whilst the same suggestion to science fiction folk produced a much more encouraging ‘yes, and…’ response.
It’s the ‘yes, and…’ response that has led to over thirty random strangers coming together to make a double album. Incidentally, it’s the same ‘yes, and…´ response that led to 37 co-conspirators to share art, video and ripping yarns to my ‘Together’ book, to a Swedish translation of ‘Whatever’ to materialise and for two lovely actor types from the West Country to be on a constant state of stand-by to bring ‘Whatever’ to the stage. One day Robin and Luke. One day.
It all started so innocently. 18th October 2017, I was channeling Alan Partridge with a dictaphone and posted on The 400 page:
“So full of silly ideas for the next project, I might need to get a dictaphone à la Partridge. Latest: Oliver Senton to re-record ‘It’s Grim Up North’ reading the names of The 400. If he’s busy, get Matt Berry.”
Well, we’ll never get to hear Matt Berry’s typically understated reading as 17 days later, Lisa Lovebucket got in touch to say that Oliver was ‘definitely up for it’ and that we should get together on a Skype call to sort out the details, which eventually/obviously happened 23 days after my original post.
A proposition was quickly drafted and an announcement was scheduled and before long we had over 30 of The 400 offering support and encouragement for the project.
By the time Burn The Shard came around, Oliver was no longer that slightly menacing Officiator Guy from Welcome To The Dark Ages, but instead was the generous, warm-hearted fella from our Skype chat who was very much looking forward to his train journey along the coast to meet us in Brighton for the recording session.
This seems like as good a time as any to mention the debt that this project owes to Sam Buckley, Page 78 and co-owner of Lucky Stone Studios in Brighton. He gave his time, expertise, equipment and facilities to the project free of charge as well as putting up a couple of us 400 types in the home he shares with Caitlin and their two crazy dogs, Elvis and Luna. It was great to make the long trek from Nottingham down the M1 around the M25 and to the end of the M23 knowing that there was a warm welcome at the end of it.
On the day of recording, Sam and I were joined by Guy, Mark, Bela, Ben, Jon and Dai. The studios were undergoing a little bit of refurbishment at the time and space was tight, but over the course of six hours we recorded Oliver’s 20 page script, including some fantastic ad-libs, formed (and then disbanded) the pop-up Badger Kull choir to record some backing tracks for ‘WAR!’ and ‘Big Mac With Fries’, Bela’s stunning cello part that closes the final chapter, and a three song jam session of guitars, synth, cello, drum machine and saw. The fruits of this jam were appropriated for ‘Seventeen Kilometres’. For more on the Brighton adventure, go here: https://welcometothedarkagespage130.com/2018/02/04/raw-strings-brighton-mu-sigil/
Sam uploaded the recordings soon after that weekend and then the fun really began as tracks started to take shape.
That was the very start of February and by the end of March we were nearly three quarters complete. The following week saw a flurry of apologies and activity as the last few tracks drifted in. It was at that point, I sequenced the tracks onto my iPhone 23 and took the album out on the road. It sounded good. Really good.
Collaborators came from as far North as Sweden, as far South as Australia (Cassandra provides our amazing cover image) and did so with a playful, adventurous spirit and a determination to ‘make it wilder.’
Some questions remain: How did a bunch of strangers who just happened to be at the same ‘happening’ end up coordinating the creation of a double CD for charity using only Facelife to keep in touch? How did the project end up using the unrivalled acoustics of The British Library’s smelliest toilet to record a chorus of ‘Fuuk The World’? And what will Bill and Jimmy say when they are presented with their copies on May 23rd, thirty years to the day that Dr Who and a Glitterbeat conspired to give them ‘loadsamoney’ to take them to that all important next level of global success and money to burn? I’m not sure. Probably, ‘whatever’…
Footnote: Fate and Destiny are strange concepts to an ontological agnostic like myself. But I want to share one final story. 30 years ago I was in a hopeless white rap trio by the name of APB. One of our songs used generous amounts of the Disco 2000 track ‘I Gotta CD’, so it made perfect sense to send our demo tape to The JAMs. To my surprise, I received two replies from Bill. One under the moniker of The King and the other from a yet to be revealed alias of Time Boy. The second suggests starting my own record label and putting out stuff myself. 30 years to the day after the arrival of Timeboy, this is finally a reality.
The 400 Remix Project double CD is available for a minimum donation of £10.23 (plus £2 P&P) PayPal to The400Together@outlook.com
For overseas shipping, please send queries to the above email.
Digital downloads and streaming will be available from 23-05-18 at The400.Bandcamp.com
All proceeds to be split between The Natural Death Centre Charity and The Florrie ADP/NYC appeal.
As well as overseeing the project, Andy had a hand in three of the tracks, details of which follow.
More insight from the other collaborators to come…
Track by track
For Book 1 Chapter 1, Stephen Clarke 1980 delivered a blistering trilogy of tracks, each interpreting the chapter in a radically different way. These were the first finished tracks I received and they were perfect. Almost.
We wanted to feature the names of The 400 page holders across our tracks. In his quest for pop perfection, Stephen had left very little space. Not to worry, I thought. I’ll knock up a quick intro. Taking inspiration from the chapters title, I took Bill’s iconic “what the fuck is going on?” from the end of The JAMs debut single, All You Need Is Love, and stretched it. Twenty three times. All of a sudden this fake shipyard worker sounded like a thousand monks chanting. Inspired by the writings of Badger Kull’s Flinton Chalk, I retuned everything to 111hz and bingo, we had our intro.
If listening to WTF, makes you feel funny, it’s totally intentional, but it wouldn’t be the first time you had your brain retuned…
Book 1 Chapter 2
The Ballad Of Winnie and Yoko
When The400 Remix Project started allocating chapters to work on, I passed on my own chapter and let the super talented Eric Kleptone have a bash.
Then along cane Matt Rhodes from 1:2. He made music with his mate, Matt, as the excellent 4 Floors Of Whores https://soundcloud.com/four-floors-of-whores/4wd-taster, but didn’t know where to start. As synchronicity would have it, his chapter title Meet John & Yoko linked nicely to a Beatles pastiche, I had already written that needed a home. https://welcometothedarkagespage130.com/2018/04/09/the-ballad-of-yoko-and-winnie/
The AMMs were born. It was only then that we realised we all lived within five miles of each other. This could work. I sent them a rough sketch of how I felt the music should be – Krautrock, scuzzy AF – and within a couple of weeks, an instrumental appeared in my inbox. It was pretty late at night, in fact, it might have been early morning, so I popped on my headphones and cranked it up. It sounded perfect.
Next job, record some vocals and not ruin it. A few weeks later I popped round to Matt Brown’s place and after a few minutes of getting acquainted, I head to the vocal booth, complete with en-suite toilet and sink. Five takes later, I emerged and to my pleasant surprise, the Matts were happy with what I’d done. Take 5’s vocals were pretty shredded after four early efforts and not enough hydration, but I think they were where I started to feel comfortable with both the track and the downstairs toilet’s acoustics.
A few more weeks later, the finished track arrived, again very late at night. I plugged in again and prepared to cope with listening to my own voice, something I’ve never been too keen on, whether it was during my late 90s stint on local radio or hearing my voice booming around The Bombed Out Church last August, while I presented my ‘response’.
But, I need not have worried. Matt and Matt did a wonderful job and even managed to fit in all of The 400s name, going well above and beyond the brief. One day, The AMMs might even play it live. For that I’ll need a long leather coat, a kilt and a vintage machine gun.
Book 3 Chapter 6
As the chapters started to be allocated, no one seemed keen on taking this on and we had no contributors who were from the chapter. I reached out to the one actual hit maker in the chapter, but I didn’t get any response, so I decided to do this one myself. The Top Of The Pops samples on The JAMs 1987 album are in many ways the most daring of the bunch. Along with snippets from painkiller adverts and Channel Four News, they capture a unique moment in time, namely the evening of Thursday 12th March 1987 (coincidentally my last day as a 16 year old).
So with a chapter title like Christmas Top Of The Pops, my plan was a new chart countdown featuring the page holders names. In most cases, the track titles were based around their Dark Ages job allocations, with the exception of Mari, who got to name the Yoko Kunt kuntribution. I finished off the Top 20 with the countdown from the book, but I’m still a little vague about whether they actually mention who is the Christmas Number One. I added the countdown to The O’s script for Brighton and he delivered it with such panache that a career at Radio 1 must surely beckon.
Oh and I totally stole all of Paul Hardcastle’s iconic ‘The Wizard’. Please don’t sue, buddy. It’s for charity.