Aah, Paris in spring - city of romance and, er, croissants. But lawd-a-lawks mon-ami what is that ruddy racket? Why that’s no racket it’s those crazy LEFTFIELD boys touring the live version of last year’s ‘Leftism’ album. And whaddya know it’s called Liveism. And it’s loud, bloody loud. ROGER MORTON got Gallic with the boys and found out how they’re handling this touring malarkey. ‘Field of vison: DEREK RIDGERS
"This must be Café De Crash Cymbal!" says Paul Daley, as his syncopation-sensitive drummer’s ears twitch to the "tsss, tsss, tsss" of brass on brass in a sidewalk café.
It is springtime in Paris. Leftfield have come here to rattle the bowels of the French with their third live gig. And Paris is returning the compliment by singing back at Daley and his brother in rhythm, Neil Barnes.
Spring is on the mike, see. It’s a symphony of urban polyphonics that surrounds us as we sit at a pavement table. The distant horns of a Montmartre traffic jam punctuate the near left to right panning of moped engines. The cries of holiday time schoolchildren cut into the drowsy rise and fall of small talk Francais. And a cymbal-flecked patina of ‘50s jazz leaks out of the café speakers, down past the Miles Davis posters and into Paul and Neil’s heads. Tss, tss, tss…
"Yeah it all went wrong in the ‘80s, didn’t it?"
What did? The Chunnel? The Entente Cordiale? Comedy double acts? No! We are talkin’ jazz here, with the Pot Shop Boys. Paul wipes his sparklingly blue eyes. Neil nods his head enthusiastically. They like a bit of jazz, do Les Champs A Gauche.
"Yeah, John Coltrane all that stuff, I love that period," says Neil chomping into his Croque Monsieur in time with Paul’s munching rhythm.
"Yeah John Coltrane," sniggers Paul, blue eyes sparkling even more. "He was brilliant in Cracker, wasn’t he?… OK, I’ll get my coat now."
This Barnes and Daley double act is a slick thing to behold. Eight years in the honing. And at long bloody last they’re playing live. But which one’s Eric and which one’s Ernie?
ONCE UPON a time Paul was a hairdresser and lone drummer. He played sesh work for funksters the Brand New Heavies. And he cut hair. Down in Kensington Marloet in the ‘8Os he’d do flat tops, shaves, waves, the lot. And then there would be nights out at warehouse parties where Paul would get to work still speeding out of his head, and cut 15 heads in two hours.
"It was quite mad," he recalls. "There’s more rock’n’roll in hairdressing, I think, than in rock’n’roll."
One hazy rock’n’drumroll London night, maybe down at the jazz’n’dub’n’rare groove club run by his hair shop boss Paul Henley, Daley met a lone conga player called Neil Barnes, and the loneliness of the long distance percussion freak was cut by half.
Barnes was a conga punk. An ex-Joy Division fan and acquaintance of John Lydon, he got deep into rhythm in the mid-’80s, spent time bongoing for the London School Of Samba, and was one of the early DJs at the Wag Club. His jazz education came partly via working at Honest John’s jazz shop on the Portobello Road. His formal education, though, came from a modern history degree, which led to five years teaching at Paddington College where he tested out the first ever Leftfield single on his class, and watched in horror as one pupil set fire to the classroom carpet by firing a gun into it.
"I got into trouble for that," says Neil. "Music was a way out of it all really."
Forgetting Neil’s samba-ing and Paul Daley’s stint of singing "teenage twaddle" angst with a school punk band, Leftfield have had the longest run-up to a live debut ever. Probably. They have travelled a straggling road of punk, reggae, funk, scissorwork, dayjobbery, nightprowling, DJing, acid house and studio-bound pop success before finding the turning marked ‘tour’. But weary travellers they are not.
These people are experienced like gourmets. They have been there, seen and heard it all and then spread it on a Croque Monsieur for high tea. Repeatedly they have proved that they can turn their broad spread of knowledge into The Most Exciting Non-Jungle British Basshead Music Of The ‘9Os.
They are the rootsiest of the dance supergroups, linking the ‘9Os advances in techno with everything from ‘7Os reggae to the devotional vocal styles of Indians Sufis. At the end of the live Leftfield experience, they drop a sample of Islamic singer star Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan into ‘Not Forgotten’, eerily echoing John Lydon’s ‘Open Up’ wail, and successfully placing the hybrid form of their super-evocative techno mantras where it belongs - in line with the world history of great ecstatic musics. Qawwali, punk rock, roots techno, it’s all just a question of opening up.
"I think that a lot of people aren’t exposed to enough different types of music," says Paul as the city soundscape swirls. "In Paris I think people are a bit more because of the African contingent and if you look at their charts it’s a lot more diverse than the UK charts. I just think English culture is very insular in what it listens to. It’s all like, ‘Oh, there’s that funny Arabic music’. Or, ‘Oh it’s that music they play in the restaurant when you go for an Indian innit?’. But if you sit down and listen to it it’s wicked. You just have to take the time. People like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, he’s got a brilliant voice."
"I was listening to him 15 years ago," enthuses Neil in his open safety pin accent. "‘Cos we really like singers as well, we love great voices and sometimes you hear those ethnic voices and they’re really powerful, but the context is very religious and you think, ‘Imagine freeing up that voice and giving him a mad backing track, what would he do?’ And that’s good fun. That’s the excitement of what we do."
"He was an influence a lot on John in the PiL days," says Paul.
"Yeah, John’s met him," continues Nell. "That’s more the Celtic thing. It’s fate, see? Similar musical concepts will come up in different parts of the world without any communication between the people. You’ll get a similar thing happening in India that’s happening in lreland, and there’ll be sonic matching."
A SIMILAR thing happens to Paul Daley in both Naples and Belfast. When he DJs the dancefloors explode and the dancers turn into fans, chasing him round and trying to carry him off to ‘crazy’ parties. In Naples he has to have bodyguards to protect him. This, the pair reckon, is to do with some sort of Celtic link connecting Neopolitan instruments, the Gauls, Public Image Ltd (big in Naples, big with Leftfield) and, erm, Paul Daley’s Irish grandfather.
Whether it’s spook coincidence or musicological reality doesn’t really matter. The point is that Leftfield’s loyalties have never been nationally bounded. Their whole concept of music. as showcased on an album which lined up Toni Halliday next to Earl 16 and Lydon, is against scenes of any sort.
Two days ago in Amsterdam, Neil Barnes raved like a teenage cokehead dervish behind his keyboards and then stepped forward to play weirdo non-European instrument, the berimbou, on ‘Afro-Left’, while African vocalist Djum Djum went for it on the Theremin. A soundcrash, or what.
Neil is not wearing his ‘F--- Britpop’ T-shirt today, but the fact that the ‘Field are at odds with (erm, to the left of) the centreground of current pop can’t remain hidden for long.
"What pisses me off is that it’s all gone back to this great songwriting bollocks," snarls Neil. "This is the thing I’m getting and I hate it. Oh my God! Give it a rest. Classic songs! You’ve got to be joking. They’re all fighting to write these classic songs. And they’re all so f---ing big-headed as well. I find it all a bit sad."
"I like some of the bands," moderates Paul. "It’s difficult perhaps for us because we’re older. I don’t really understand what they’re singing about."
"They’re not singing about anything," Neil smoulders on. "There’s nothing to most of them I’m afraid. There’s no edge to it. It’s all about, ‘How can we get on Top Of The Pops? ‘ It’s all so safe, and wrapped up in the whole corporate thing. jingly-jangly and too happy for me. No intensity. I’ve always liked Jarvis, mind you. He does remind me a bit of Ian Curtis. I’ve always liked his lyrics, he makes me laugh."
The great toppled sound system of Paris hums in appreciation. And then suddenly Paul Daley says something that drops the city’s decibel level to zero.
"I like Shed Seven," he announces.
A stunned silence reigns. Then one of Daley’s mates sitting nearby leaps in and tries to turn the tape off.
"Erase that. He never said it!"
Oh, but he did. Too late. Once calm has returned Daley clarifies the outrageous remark.
"No, I’m just being honest," he says. "I like a couple of the records they’ve made. I like a couple of Oasis records too. I haven’t bought any Shed Seven records though, right? I’ve just seen them on telly a couple of times! No really I just see them on TV, that’s all."
IN THEIR elderstatesmen guise, Daley and Barnes are actually gently critical of the retro tendencies of ‘90s music. Originality, they feel, is still mostly the domain of techno-tinged music. There is, they reckon, still a lot of technophobia lurking in the wrinkly-arsed boardrooms of the music business, which prefers the ‘safety’ of classic songs to "dark experimental techno that might be a little bit scary".
But what exactly is so scary about. dub’n’bass’n’unity vibes? Some might say that there’s minimal idea content to the ‘Field’s sound onslaught.
"But I think communicating on a sonic level is just as important," says Neil. "You don’t have to lecture people to give people enjoyment. We are entertainers. We are. We might hurt people a bit now and again, but the idea is to give people pleasure and if you can do that sonically that’s just as important as standing up there with a guitar and talking about class or cigarettes and alcohol. I mean, that’s deep, innit? It’s meaningless!"
Do you think it makes you a better person if you’re open to deep-bass frequencies?
"I think it opens your ideas up. I think it opens people up. That’s the idea. ‘Open Up’ was interesting lyrically, I think. A lot of people didn’t understand it. There was that thing about burning down Hollywood but there was more then that."
Pain and, pleasure are carefully balanced within the open-ended echo chamber of Leftfield. The night before Paris they played in Ghent’ in Belgium, land of’ ear-bleed techno and a tolerant place, you’d think. The giant sound system really got going that night. Fifteen people asked for their money back because it was too loud, the club’s management offered them wads of cash to do another set, and the next day the local paper ran a headline which simply said, "LEFTFIELD TOO LOUD".
Ears were not the only casualties. Down at the soundcheck at Le Palace in Paris, Daley stands in the dressing room applying plasters and bandages to a pair of hands which have disintegrated into a mass of blisters under the strain of sweat-soaked drumming.
"I thought they were hard enough," he says. "Someone gave me a pair of disgusting cycling gloves to wear but I’d rather suffer, I think" Then he picks up his sticks and heads for the drum stool for another dose of hurt hands.
Leftfield’s Hard Hands label was named after a rhythm invented by ‘60s star conga player Ray Barretto. To hear Barnes talk about Barretto is to glimpse a life-long love affair.
"He’s in his 70s now. Probably the best conga player in the world at one stage. A genius! A star!"
"Percussion players are always thought to be the icing on the cake, the little flourish at the end," adds Daley ruefully. "But maybe things are changing."
As the soundcheck gets going in Le Palace, the bass frequencies pump out with enough force to crack the plaster three doors down. At the end of the ‘70s, Barnes used to hang out at reggae sound systems in the Acklam Hall (now Subterania) in Notting Hill. You don’t get it as loud as that any more, he reckons, but the Influence lives on in the ‘Field’s extreme bass and treble.
"I think it’s just taking sonics to the limit, innit," says Paul, concurring with Daley’s volume lust, as only someone who drummed his mum’s sofa to death would.
"I think a lot of people go through their life and music’s just a little thing that goes on now and again in the background," reflects Daley. "To other people it’s everything. Sometimes I wish it could be less like that because it makes it difficult at times."
YOU WOULD not, in frankness, want to be psychotherapist to Daley and Barnes. Without disappearing into the loon realms of Tribal / shamanistic / New Age gibberish (Daley: "I think it’s all bollocks."), both are sonic obsessives. Married with kids, Barnes could at least retreat into his family during the months of meticulous preparation for this tour. Daley, however, being married to his decks when not studio-bound, rarely leaves the field of sound.
In the run-up to the tour, his sleeping hours were invaded by nightmares. Either a canvas stage swallowed all the gear, he walked out to find an uninvited brass section joining in, or he was driving a motorbike with the entire band in the sidecar.
For both Barnes and Daley the Liveism tour is a big deal - a culmination of a life’s work. It pushes everything off disc and onto the soundstage, making Leftield suddenly ‘real’, like Underworld, like the Sex Pistols, like all the great bands who’ve taught them "how good it can be".
"The live show isn’t like what other people have done, it’s more like African Headcharge," says ontour DJ Billy Nasty, sporting a recent Daley-trimmed haircut. Onstage, with Daley at the skins, Barnes on congas/keyboards, Pushflange man Nick Rapaccioli adding extra keyboards and Djum Djum (Neil Cole) and MC Cheshire taking turns at the mike, it’s the most human, organic interpretation of dark techno yet devised. Offstage too, with an entourage of mates, ‘spiritual advisers’, DJs and spliff manufacturers hanging out, it’s a long way from rigid computer boffinland. Kind of like a band, really.
"We didn’t want to do what Orbital do, we didn’t want to do what Underworld do, we wanted to do our own thing," says Paul. "So that’s why we went and sat down and put together something that had its own identity. I haven’t been to see The Prodigy. I’ve seen Underworld twice, I’ve seen The Orb once, and that’s about it. So I’m not really aware of what other people are doing and in a way I’m glad because it stops you from being able to get on with what you want to do.
"I think it really is a hard thing to make live music work in a club environment. I suppose it’s The Prodigy who’ve broken down that barrier, because before that it wasn’t really happening. It was DJ culture. Half the time people don’t know who’s on. And to get people in that environment to stop and look at something is quite hard."
Well you need Keith from The Prodigy don’t you?
"The thing is you are either a Keith or you’re not," says Neil. "You can’t create a Keith. You can’t create a John Lydon. You just are that sort of person. You just have to be yourself. As soon as People aren’t themselves on stage that’s when it starts getting crap."
You could always bring on some tap dancers.
"Nah. Clogs, mate. Clog-dancing, that’s what we should have had in Amsterdam."
BEFORE THE night’s show, Barnes and Daley sit in the back seat of a cab gridlocked in traffic. There are no Naples-style mobbing scenes here. The Parisians are too cool. And the Leftfield pair would rather they were left alone to chat about music anyway. So they do. About how great Ninjatunes are, how wicked it was to see The Prodigy at Number One, how drum’n’bass has given the dance scene "a kick up the arse" and about how Paul still gets a buzz out of playing records by "some little Herbert from the sticks who’s made it in his bedroom". All the mad enthusiasm of people still firmly addicted to the roots.
With all those opinions about music going around you’d think that there might occasionally be friction between them. Not according to Daley. "We have had rows but it wasn’t about anything personal," he says. "You’re bound to have that when you’re making music with someone for so long. Anyway, the greatest comedy double acts hated each other."
So who’s Morecambe and who’s Wise then?
Paul: "I’m Flanagan and he’s Allen. No, we’re not the Gallagher brothers or anything. I’m sure they love each other anyway."
The world tour’s on then?
Paul: "I dunno really. There’s a chance that it might go Left Zeppelin."
Before Leftfield get carried away with the idea of a separate coach gonzo tour of the world, however there is the disappointment of the Tribal Gathering shindig being postponed... Or, judging by past experiences, maybe it’s a relief?
The last time Daley visited the Gathering he was merely tent DJ. Except that the tent was squashed with 5,000 people that Paul wasn’t exactly expecting as he stepped out on the raised decks, 30ft above the sea of dancers. Did he feel like Bono?
"No," says Paul. "Actually I felt like pooing myself. I nearly did. I was so nervous that at one point I couldn’t remember which record was playing and I took the wrong one off. Five thousand people just looked up at me, so l dropped it and it came f---ing bang on the beat. It sounded like I’d transformed it. Everyone was going, ‘Woooaaaaaargh!’. That was a top disco accident, that was."
There are no disco accidents in Paris. The show rocks like a bacchanalian headcharge of intense, bassed out, edgy rhythm. Like Public Enemy on E, in fact. Imagine, then, what all that mighty conglomeration of experience and extremism, bloody hands and jazzy brains, Afro voices and ripped techno, will be like projected through an Armageddon-sized PA, as the sun goes down at Tribal Gathering... Shame that.
As the moon hoists up over Paris, Leftfield’s aftershow dressing room glows with celebratory spliffs. MC Cheshire is comatose. Neil’s chatting with a mate about the reformation of the Sex Pistols, and the band’s agent’s hopping about proclaiming, "127 decibels the other night! Louder than The Who! Louder than The Who!"
All these years of waiting and Leftfield have got the band on the road thing down after a mere four days. Except that no-one makes a crack when the frugally-clothed club dancer-ette walks past. And somewhere out in the disco, a lone conga player has taken his cue from Leftfield and is palming a crazy rhythm out of his congas, in time with the DJ.
Paul Daley unwraps the bandages from his hands and pulls a note out of his pocket. "Look, one of the roadies sold a fan my drumsticks for 5O francs,’ he says laughing. "At least we made something out of tonight!"
Just like a drummer, eh? No, make that just like the drummer.
(article nicked from 'New Musical Express', dated 4 May 1996)