What was your creative process for compiling this mix?
Kermit and his writing partner Luke (EVM128) had already recorded 7 Blind Arcade demos, and it was those tracks that sold me on the project. I then listened through a number of works in progress, stuff without vocals, or with only part of them recorded, and picked out another 5 tracks. With the mixtape idea in place I’d already planned to contribute additional material, via a number of edits I’d put together that complimented the Blind Arcade vibe, creating sections for Kermit to lend his vocal to – also Katherine and Carmel Reynolds, who I’d just recorded with for the first time (they appear on the about to be released Schooled In The Classics 12″) , for I was sure they could make a telling contribution, which they most certainly have, plus Tracey Carmen, who I’ve worked with for many many years (and also happens to be my wife). Some of these edits I brought to the table, others were Kermit’s suggestions – eventually half-a–dozen of these would make it onto the finished mixtape.
It was then a case of 3 pretty intensive days recording in Derek Kaye’s studio. Intensive in a good way though, working, for the most part, quickly and decisively, the ideas really fluid. We even found time to record a new track Kermit had just written, the 19th and final one to make the cut, and very much the joker in the pack – ‘Red Stripe And A Spliff’. We then systematically mixed the stuff off, again without dwelling too long on things – the nature of a mixtape being that there’ll be those rough edges. It needed to retain some of its knockabout feel, for this is part of its charm, whilst at the same time we wanted to add further depth, so we paid particular attention, where possible, to the bottom end. It needed that fuller flavour.
Eventually I had all the individual tracks and began the jigsaw of piecing them together into a whole, connected via the transitions I created. Again, I was able to work fairly quickly, and, fortunately, didn’t really get bogged down at any point along the way.
The mixtape was completed on May 28th, the day Maya Angelou died, with some of her wise words the final addition. It was a fitting conclusion – I knew it was complete then.
We love the artwork for this mix over here at The Pool could you tell us a bit about who created it?
The original hooded man image is from a San Francisco poster by Bonnie MacLean from the psychedelic summer of love in 1967. Dominic Mandrell, who did the Schooled In The Classics coat of arms, adapted it, adding the appropriate title within the purple globe. For the cassette inlay idea, which includes the tracklisting, we went for a distressed look, inspired by a well worn inlay I’d seen of ‘Revolver’ by The Beatles online.
The project seems to be harnessing some of the energy of the 60’s psychedelic movement. Was that a big influence on the project? How did you go about channelling that into the mixtape?
I’m something of a 60’s obsessive – it’s been a main area of interest for me since I began to devour everything Beatles, not long after I’d packed it in as a DJ in the mid-80’s. I remember the taste of those psychedelic days back in the 60’s, which I experienced as a child, and although the full Haight-Ashbury trip never quite reached New Brighton, where I grew up, its influence was clear in the music of the period – this strange otherworldly flavour that even, sometimes, made it into straight up pop records of the time. The title alone, ‘Blind Arcade Meets Super Weird Substance In The Morphogenetic Field’ evokes those times, although, in reality, this was inspired by the Dub classic ‘King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown’, plus a nod to comic writer Alan Moore (‘super weird substance’ being a term he mentioned in an interview, as a quantum physics expression relating to information), and the man who came up with the theory of morphogenetic fields, Rupert Sheldrake. So yeah, there is certainly a sprinkling of psychedelic fairy dust throughout the mixtape, but there are also definite links to the second summer of love in the late 80’s, including that free spirited De La Soul album ‘3 Feet High And Rising’, which was the soundtrack of the summer months exactly 25 years ago. I suppose it’s this summer of love connection that relates strongly to the mixtape – we very much see it as something which totally comes into its own with a few rays of sunshine, an addition to the summer soundtrack for sure.
Could you tell us about how Howard Marks came to be involved in the project?
He’s a friend of Kermit’s. We recorded the part from Genesis at my house, which slotted it in at the intro of ‘Universal Prayer’, Kermit’s ode to the green stuff. Howard was obviously the ideal person for this role, given his history. We also recorded Kermit’s poem, ‘Lies And Other Fools’ that night, which symbolically draws a line under his murky heroin addicted past, which became public knowledge during his Black Grape infamy of the mid-late 90’s, the period when he was last in the limelight. We put this out as a limited run single sided 7″ for Record Store Day, and it’s in complete contrast to the positive life-affirming qualities of the mixtape. Not a comfortable listen, but a necessary symbolic part of our process. Kermit had, of course, nearly died, having contracted septicaemia from a dirty needle, having to retreat from the music business for the following decade whilst his health deteriorated and he waited to have a heart operation that had resulted from the infection. Thankfully it was a complete success, setting him off on the road to redemption, and culminating in this latest work.
You used to manage Kermit and the Ruthless Rap Assassins. Do you have any anecdotes you can share with us about that incredibly fertile time for British music, especially in Manchester?
The Assassins were as Manchester as they came, but they didn’t have that baggy thing going on, and they happened to be black, which sadly worked against them, and meant that lesser bands were getting more airtime because they fit the Madchester stereotype of the time. In context to the mixtape, what was interesting is that, on the day it was completed, by total coincidence I came across an online review of the ‘Killer Album’, from when it was re-issued a few years back. There’s been some great stuff written about the Assassins down the years, but this guy, from Switzerland, had really got what we were up to back then, and articulated it so well. It was a very karmic thing to be reading on that particular day, and sums up the Assassin’s role in the Manchester narrative of the late 80’s / early 90’s:
Structurally this mix reminds us of a classic Hip Hop mixtape. Is this what you were trying to capture? Is Hip Hop still a big influence on your work?
My relationship with Kermit is tied in with the evolution of the UK Hip Hop scene back in the early-mid-80’s. He was one of the kids that used to come to Legend during my time there, and, even though he’d started out as a Jazz-Fusion dancer, was a big fan of the Electro direction I took during 82/83. He was one of the founder members of Broken Glass, the now legendary breakdance crew, and the first time he recorded was on the Broken Glass track, ‘Style Of The Street’, which I produced in 1984 for what turned out to be the ‘UK Electro’ project. We also, of course, worked together when I managed / produced the Ruthless Rap Assassins, so, as you can see, our musical relationship has Hip Hop at its very core. Mixtapes are very much a part of the Hip Hop approach, so this felt like the right way forward for Blind Arcade to be introduced.
It’s great to see Kermit making such a triumphant return having been seemingly lost to the demon of addiction. Could you tell us about how it’s been working with him again and accessing his creative energy that seems to have lain dormant for too long?
He’s an older / wiser version of the guy who I last worked with during the Rap Assassins days, who, was slipping deeper into heroin addiction towards the end of our association. We remained friends after it had all fallen apart, and I was touched when, a few years later, he came to Liverpool, during a particularly difficult time for me, to play me a cassette of the Black Grape album, just ahead of the final mixes, and ask my opinion. I was bowled over with what I heard, and the album would go on to top the chart, catapulting Kermit to pop stardom. With Kermit and Shaun Ryder both junkies, Black Grape was always going to implode at some point, but they had a decent innings, and for that golden period they were the hottest band in the country. After that he launched a short-lived project called Big Dog, before distancing from the business to sort out his health issues and await the op. Once he realised he’d been given another chance in life he threw himself, like a man possessed, into writing new tracks and also poetry. What impresses me so much is that he’s been able to approach things with such positivity, accepting his past and embracing his future, whereas lesser people may not have been able to shed the negativity of former ways, or been able to shake off the anger of what they may have regarded as wasted years. Having crawled out of the abyss, Kermit has picked himself up, brushed himself off, and re-entered the fray with a smile on his face, not a scowl, and looking a million dollars, which has got to be a source of inspiration for anyone who’s struggling in life, be it with drug problems or otherwise. It’s that classic tale of redemption, which has been told throughout time, but given a contemporary context here. I have to say that it’s been a pleasure to work with Kermit again – I’ve been able to feed off his seemingly inexhaustible energy, and we are very much in accord with regards to how to move the project forward.
Could you explain to us how Blind Arcade came together? What was your role in the formation of the new group?
It was the result of Kermit moving to Chester a few years back, for this is where he met Luke / EVM128 (who’s subsequently moved to London). They’d also brought in vocalists BB. James and Amy Wilson on some of the demos, BB. taking the lead, to great effect, on ‘Give It Away’. I’d initially declined Kermit’s invitation to come onboard as producer because I was too busy as it was, with my DJ work and the rest of it, but, once I’d heard what they were doing, that all went out of the window. I had to get involved, for this is what I’m all about – you rarely get the opportunity to contribute to a project of this type of quality, so I wouldn’t have been true to myself had passed the offer up.
This mixtape also announces the beginning of a new label for you, Super Weird Substance. Could you tell us a bit about what you would like to achieve with the label?
I just want to put out good music that people enjoy, both tracks that are commercially accessible, and those which have more of a cult aura. At the same time we want to develop the live side of things, either stand alone Blind Arcade gigs, or full Super Weird Happenings, a series of which we’re currently planning for a handful of cities in the autumn. Moving onwards, we want to release an official Blind Arcade album, combining tracks from the mixtape that we’ve worked further into and new recordings – this is looking forward to 2015, when we also want to have a greater presence for both Blind Arcade and Super Weird Substance on the festival circuit, both in the UK and Europe.
Listen and download the new mixtape here: https://soundcloud.com/gregwilson/blind-arcade-meets-super-weird-substance-in-the-morphogenetic-field