My copy of the original 1995 Dedicated version of 'Cardinal'
As I said in my post about the Impressions albums, listening to the radio became a significant lifeline for me while I was based in Suffolk for five months in early 1996. The main radio show I became attached to was Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley’s (aka the Boy Lard) night-times how between 10pm-12am, although I had been listening to this show since early 1995. It was a major help during a difficult period. I begun to appreciate ‘Indie’ music such as Super Furry Animals and Teenage Fanclub (amongst many others) through this show. However it was one track that Mark played during this period that really affected me. This was Richard Davies’ ‘Sign up maybe for being’
Richard Davies – Sign up maybe for being – uploaded by sbritt
When I first heard this my reaction was ‘I didn’t know they made them like this still!’ Mark Radcliffe played this track regularly, much to my delight. I got the album this track was from ‘There’s never been a crowd like this’ in HMV the next Saturday I was in Ipswich. It took me a while to get the album but it became a favourite.
I found out that Richard had been in two groups before issuing this album –an Australian group called the Moles and Cardinal with Eric Matthews. I was familiar with Eric Matthews track ‘Fanfare’ though Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley. Between mid 1996-1997, I worked in a trainee Librarian post and it was a very happy time of my life. It finally felt as though things were coming together after several false starts after I had finished my degree. I managed to get a copy of ‘Cardinal’ in early 1997 from the Virgin megastore on the corner of Oxford Street. When I got home that evening I went to listen to the CD in my brother’s room as I did not have a CD player in my room. I recall not being impressed by the yellow cover of the actual CD! I will be honest I did not get the album the first time I heard it (but I played it again immediately). I must have persevered in listening to it. I recall that the first time I became aware how deeply it had affected me was a few months later on a long drive with my aunt when a line from ‘Big Mink’ – ‘I meet you on the ferry and you could read my mind’ kept going through my subconscious.
The album is not very long- about half an hour or so (Richard Davies does not do long albums but each moment on them counts- a reason I respect him). It has ten tracks. Richard Davies wrote seven of the songs, with one song being co-written with Eric Matthews and Bob Fay, the albums one instrumental being credited to both Davies and Matthews and ‘Dream figure’ being written by Eric Matthews. Richard wrote some of these songs in a flat on Abbey Road, while he was temporarily based in London with the Moles. He recorded early versions of the songs that became ‘If you believe in Christmas trees’ and ‘You’ve lost me there’ (along with an early version of ‘Sign up maybe for being’) when the group did a Peel session. I tracked down this Peel session to the British Library sound archive and listened to it several times in around 2000 (thanks to their staff for their assistance!). It was interesting that even performed without orchestral backing and with very different lyrics, that the songs were still strong.
‘Cardinal’ has a certain reputation/respect on the Indie music scene for the lush orchestral arrangements of the tracks courtesy of Matthews, a classically trained musician and Davies’ melodic song writing. This was in contrast to Grunge which was prevalent at the time the album was issued. This has led to the album being labelled ‘Orch-pop’ – a label neither Davies or Matthews feels entirely happy with.
I also managed to track down the rare EP Cardinal recorded with Bob Fay called ‘Toy Bell’. This was recorded some time before the album. This includes an earlier non-orchestrated version of ‘Big Mink’ which I actually slightly prefer. The other tracks are a lot more harder and guitar orientated than the tracks on the album, more in the style of the tracks on The Moles second album ‘Instinct’ (the title track of which is a Davies/Matthews/Fay) recording. I got that album too in 1998 along with Davies second solo album ‘Telegraph’.
Cardinal – Big Mink (album version)- uploaded by sbritt
I do not know at what point this became my favourite album. All I know is that it had been by the time it was reissued in 2005 for some time. Perhaps it is because this is something made by people of almost my generation and was something contemporary. I had not entirely missed the party. It is hard to pick a favourite track but this may be it.
Cardinal- You’ve lost me there- uploaded by sbritt
I was very excited by the reissue of this album in 2005, so much so I brought it twice. It contained demos of the songs on the album, some of the Toy Bell EP and some unreleased tracks. I even corresponded with Marc Riley about the re-issue and he played a track for me on air. My favourite track on the reissue not on the original album is the gorgeous demo of Richard and Eric performing ‘Say the words impossible’. This is quite different from the version that was a B-Side of their one single (yes I have this too!). At this time I was settling into the job which I am still in after ten years and the reissue began a significant twelve month period. It was interesting to note that in the reviews of the re-issue, several critics mentioned that it was Davies’ songwriting that was what made the album.
I became aware Davies and Matthews were working together again in around 2008. I managed to hear some of the demos on their myspace page (remember myspace?). They did not disappoint. In late 2011 I found out Cardinal were issuing a follow up to ‘Cardinal’ called ‘Hymns’ (after only 18 years!). Along with the issuing of the Smile Sessions and rediscovering George Harrison this has been one of the great joys of the last three years of my life, at a time when I have had much to deal with. In my humble opinion it is a worthy successor to ‘Cardinal’.
8. Curtis Mayfield – Back to the world
My copy of Curtis Mayfield 'Back to the world'
The last entry was highly autobiographical. This is almost the opposite. I have no idea when this album came into my life or where I acquired it. All I know is that out of all Curtis Mayfield’s many magnificent solo albums of the early seventies this is the one that means most to me.
‘Back to the world’ is almost a song for song reflection on Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s going on’ as it is also largely told from the point of view of a returning African American GI, has songs about environmental destruction (Future shock), the harm war and militarism does to children (if I was only a child again) and the hope and release of religious faith (Future song).
The title track concerns a returning Vietnam veteran reflecting on the horrors of the war and his limited prospects in civilian life (people don’t give a damn). The line ‘Do you think that God could ever forgive this life we live?’ always brings a lump to my throat not out of any religious sensibility but as a statement of lost grace and suffering.
Curtis Mayfield- Back to the world- uploaded by daidai dai
Most of the tracks on this album are over five minutes long allowing Curtis and his band to explore the lyrics and create sonic landscapes reflecting the state of mind of the central figure.
The central track is ‘Right on for the darkness’ another reflection by Mayfield on the divisions within US society (along the lines of ‘(Don’t worry) If there’s a hell below, we’re all going to go) and how the more economically/socially marginalised sections of the African American community were getting further left behind at the end of the civil rights movement.
Curtis Mayfield – Right on for the darkness uploaded by SeeSickNYC http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq6nZ5BR8QE&feature=kp
I have read a biography of Curtis Mayfield which describe the final track ‘Keep on trippin’ as a song about a lost love. But listening to the lyrics point to something far darker. The lines ‘Don’t know what you’ve been smoking, but I’m sitting here still hoping tripping will bring you back to me’ seem to specifically point to a loved one’s concern for a drug addict (the Vietnam veteran who is the central figure of the album?)
Curtis Mayfield – keep on tripping- uploaded by Zio Giu- NB the photo is of Isaac Hayes! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBNsLIIX7y0
The lyrics also refer to social marginalization and being ‘nailed to the cross’. I always feel that the ‘chilled out’ vibe of the music is created to deliberately contrast with the horrifying situation described in the music. It is not meant to relax the listener but portray a state of complete paralysis and detachment from reality. In this it is akin to Sly Stone’s ‘There’s a riot goin’ on’ album which uses a similar ‘so laid back, I’m horizontal (i.e. dead)’ vibe to portray the horror of drug addiction. It manages to be anti-drug (as Curtis was in all his music – check out ‘Stone Junkie’) while extending compassion to the addict and showing what circumstances have driven them to drugs.
I have written an earlier blog post about how much Curtis Mayfield and his music means to me. There is a humanity, humility and concern in his music which is rarely matched by other artists. It is a joy to know this album sold over one million copies. Sometimes the good guys do win