An extraordinary year in many ways. How did it affect you specifically?
Being autistic, the first flushes of the pandemic and lockdown were exhilarating for me in many ways. For the first time in my whole life I had people giving me a super wide berth and maintaining social distance, and this brought me to the point of tears on many occasions. Autistically I crave silence, calmness and people not being in my personal space. So that aspect of it was amazing. I am also a fan of not having to leave the house as I am most happy with the only outlook for me being extended periods of time where I can just play records and read, so again that was blissful.
Politically, I was completely overwhelmed by so many strands of what people voted for and seeing the strands of excessive self-interest come out in many distressing ways, let’s not even talk about Trump. Our own government here continued its parody of an establishment without a legislative programme and essentially wanting to drain as much money out of public services into the troughs of their moneyed supporters. Truly nauseating. I had hoped that the pandemic would have given people a sense of questioning what society we want to be part of and what is important in terms of how we treat the poor and dispossessed and a start towards political and social challenge. That did not happen.
Where did music fit in during 2020? Does it seem important?
Music was right where it will always be, and that is at the centre of who it is that I am. Music is transcendent and questions about importance will never apply to my need for music every day. What I would say is that I was more drawn towards my vintage jazz section than anything else. There is something about the authentic black voice of American jazz in particular, which is really affecting and seemed apt for this year, both in terms of black lives matter awareness and, because that music is essentially in its raw state about human struggle and the capacity for growth, overcoming great pain and adversity but still being fiercely committed to moving forward. I seemed more drawn to those textures and authentic voicing than ever before. Jazz ultimately is the truth of all things as I know it. I am very thankful for its place in my life.
What albums resonated this year? Can be old or new.
Well, picking up from my last answer, a lot of jazz from 1955 – 1970, most of which I already own. Lee Morgan’s ‘Search for The New Land’, some reissues on the Blue Note label this year in very high audible quality (The Jutta Hipp and Zoot Sims one was fantastic as was Herbie Hancock’s ‘Inventions and Dimensions’). The debut Brian Blade Fellowship record, holy crap that is a beautiful pressing re-released this year by Blue Note. It’s amazing that we are getting audio quality comparable to the Analogue Productions, Music Matters SRX versions without having to shell out offensive and anti-art amounts of money. If ‘ordinary’ people cannot afford very good pressings, we need to riot, so well done Blue Note for putting out very affordable vinyl of that quality. I mean the Jutta Hipp record was £13 from Blue Note UK direct!! That is really really great from a major….and they need that because they also released a Christmas record this year by Jamie Cullum, so, like, what the fuck is that all about?!!?!
Japan’s Leo Takami released a record called “Felis Catus & Silence” which was wistful and playful at the same time and had lovely Japanese themes running in tandem. Like a slightly ADHD infused Japanese relative of Pat Metheny. Highly recommend that one.
Staying with Pat Metheny, his new record (and his first in a long time) ‘From This Place’ was amazing, BIG BIG Metheny family, we are. I finally got the lonely remaining Ryo Fukui record I didn’t have (shit, why do Japanese pressings have to be so offensively priced now??), ‘A Letter from Slowboat”, which along with the other Fukui releases are all utterly essential trio jazz.
Spiritual Sleaze by Rejoicer was a brilliant soulful urban jazz record. I loved that. Aaron Parks’ band called Little Big released their second offering, ‘ Dreams of a Mechanical Man’, not on vinyl (BOOOOO!) but amazing and I just add that one to the list of things I need releasing on vinyl…I pray to the record gods to hear me.
I also really enjoyed some things which weren’t jazz:
The third in a trilogy by Andrew Wasylyk (Fugitive Light and Themes of Consolation), the whole of the trilogy is a must have for me, but on this record, the song which most spoke to me would be “Awake in the Early Days of a Better World”
Liam Hayes’s ‘Mirage Garage’ (Holy SHIT ‘Eat In Sin’ is so so so awesome on that record)
Roger & Brian Eno’s “Mixing Colours”, very lovely and beautifully balanced collaboration. I don’t think Roger gets the credit he deserves, hey, I love Brian, but I would trade all my Brian Eno records for a vinyl version of ‘The Flatlands’ by Roger Eno, sadly never on vinyl but I live in hope.
A very nice person I know in Japan called Takeshi (he has Tokyo’s best coffee shop ever, seriously go look at it…Hummingbird coffee). He has a copy of Haruka Nakamura’s latest 2 waiting for me, ’Still Life and Still Life II’. Why oh why people want garbage like Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm and that type of hipster shit, when they can have the real thing like Haruka, no idea, cut off their ears they clearly don’t need them.
Wang Wen’s new record ‘100,000 Whys’ proving again why this band from Dalian, China are becoming one of my favourite bands ever. Imagine a more consistently melodic and more varied Mogwai…yes, I know. Go listen, and I mean now.
The new Jimi Tenor was, as always with Jimi, very very high-quality music. It’s called ‘Aulos’, dude look at the cover of that record, Jimi is NUTS!
Ultimately maybe my biggest rush was finally closing out my Blue Nile set with the ‘oh how long have I been waiting for a vinyl edition’ release of ‘High”. Gorgeous.
As per usual I could go on and on and on….
If you had to pick one album to sum up this year, what would it be?
You know what, the two records that I keep coming back to time after time are those by
FELBM (Tapes 1-4 on two separate records but ONE vibe and episode for the creator of this lovely music so I know that is technically cheating but they belong together as one body of work I think), “Talmen” and “Heisei” from ‘Tape 3’ are utterly sublime” and really affected me, the timbre and tone of these records is immense.
The one song that I replayed at times when I felt really bleak would be “Mary Jane Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” by Magnus Ostrom off his 2013 record called “Searching for Jupiter’. Hard to convey how life-saving this song is for me when I can’t bear to live.
How have you got through the last 7 or 8 months?
I have remained at work every day as I work for the probation service, but have had to do that virtually via calls and video conferencing. So long, long days trying to support people virtually, which is the very least therapeutic mechanism there is, so that has been taxing. I have been able to spend more time with my loved ones in the house, and I have been able to take long motorbike rides which have been a real blessing to me. As my earlier answers indicate, music has got me through this year as it does every other, but I have been blessed to be able to spend whole weekends really getting into specific artists or labels, so I would spend a whole weekend just listening to every release from the Riverside label between 1957-59, for example. Or just listening to boogaloo or Icelandic jazz, or every Cure record in release order (original pressings followed by re-pressings!).
I have also started to look at learning Japanese and have started with Kana (written form), so that is good for my mind and my soul.
I also started to catalogue my extensive collection of manhole cover photographs that Johanna and I have taken over the years, you may rib me, but manhole covers are some of the most important urban artistically varied and valuable things in the entire world. It’s just sad that most of the vintage ones where symmetry and form/function came together have been removed. It’s sad as it speaks of a time when even the supposedly mundane was considered worthy of real design craft. If you visit Japan or the USA, you see breathtaking examples of this beautiful melding form and artists function and I find it utterly soothing.
You retired Dakota Suite in 2020. Are you working on any interesting projects?
Well, as I think I said last time I will always be recording music for myself, and I have written a record’s worth of new material, but even though I really enjoyed the feeling that gave me, and my pianist Quentin Sirjacq has them and we may work them up like we would have any of our other releases, I think that I will maintain that this music will just be for my own pleasure and purposes. I need to get this music out of myself from time to time or it would completely destroy me. So I am doing that for me, only for me. I did write a record of very angry noise guitar riffs, but there are dynamics with one of my regular guys that mean it’s never going to be possible to record with the band that I had. That was unbelievably painful for me to recognise. It knocked me sideways for a few weeks and I am still not sure I will ever get over it, some scars don’t heal with time or age. These are ancient and like water whose only purpose is to find and destroy a ship. I’m very upset about that. So that record or session will never happen and I feel like the idea of what could have been created (imagine a Stooges /Cure/Steely Dan mashup) will be an enduring lost idea. Like the fading and peeling layers of billboard advertisements. Utterly distressing.
Any hopes for next year?
I really want to go to Japan the back end of next year if the pandemic allows this. I am also desperate to get back to the Netherlands where I grew up (in Groningen) as it’s the only place I really feel at home. Not being able to visit my family there has been a real problem. And always more motorbiking, a long journey on my own somewhere, and also a trip with Johanna to the fjords to stay in a cabin and look at the ocean. I would love to see her more relaxed and carefree than she has been this year, and Johanna needs to travel and be outdoors and in the wilds. I want to do that for her very much. It’s maybe not surprising that I dream of other vistas having only seen my house for the majority of the year. As always, the main driver is just to endure because I start every day thinking I have no idea how to survive it.