(remnants of track 17, take 1)
You travel all over the world and everything feels familiar in some way. Until you get to places like Tokyo and it’s like landing on Mars. The streets of Mexico City had the same effect, though there it was because of the madness rather than the Neon. We did a gig up on a hill overlooking the city, then had a tour of the town in the back of a Beetle with half a windscreen. I took a load of Super8 through the broken glass, sadly lost. This tune was the soundtrack.
We were recording in Studio 2, amazing in itself given what’s gone on there before. I was kicking about waiting for the string players to arrive, there was a nice vibe there, everything was mic-ed up and I put this groove down. Ever since then I’ve always meant to turn it into a proper song, but never did. So it’s still just a jam, but with enough of the abbey road vibe to carry it through.
Australia has been the scene for the best of times. We’ve done lots of tours there, but there was one in particular where everything seemed to come together. Even more than normal. The Groove Armada travelling crew, not just the musicians, but everybody, was a pretty unique gang. Looking back on those two weeks on the road, I wonder if I’m mixing memories and dreams. There’s a little path that goes from Bondi behind the rocks to the beach round the corner. I found myself there one morning, in the silence, with enough time to realise that you’re having the best time of your life.
We used to do a lot of parties in Italy. Up near Florence was the Tenax crew. Either side of the gigs, things used to roll on for a while either at a studio down by the river or up around the vineyards and open spaces. After an after party at a house in the hills, there was noone awake and the clock was ticking. I had a flight from Rome. There was a hire car in the drive with the keys in the ignition. In the end I had no choice. I left a note...
I had to get Ibiza in there somewhere. I’ve not missed a season since 1989, whether it’s the early days giving out flyers and living on an Ostrich farm, or later on in most of the islands DJ booths. There’s a guy who runs a café in St Agnes called Tony Sonrisas. Cross the hills going north, down a long, straight road and there’s his café at the end of it. I found myself there quite often. From there, you can see a weird white carbuncle on top of the hill that was built by the guy from Enigma. It must’ve been working on my tired brain. You can hear it in the beats.
It was a memorable night, a basement party in Moscow. It was when the dwarves came around with bowls on their heads full of powders and the swordsmen came onstage behind the booth that I realised I was moving in shady company. The trouble with people fencing next to a DJ booth is that it makes the records jump. After a while it was skipping around so much I told the boss it was the swordsmen or me. He reached inside his jacket, pulled out a small firearm, and told me to ‘play the music’. I did. The day after I took the train to St Petersburg. They gave out headphones that weren’t long enough to reach the overhead sockets. Inside the train, city slickers half standing, one ear stretched towards the roof, outside, fields being ploughed by oxen. Plus the memories of the night before. As so often on the road, worlds collide.
We’ve only done the proper US bus tour once. Maybe it’s enough. You can spend 23 hours on the road getting to the next gig, only seeing a lunar landscape and once-in-500 mile garages where mom is cooking up burgers while the daughter’s trying to get married off to a trucker. There were lots of tunes made on that bus ride, but most got lost. This one only survived because someone in San Fran asked for a tape recording and I took a C60 home myself.
"Will you play a gig in Malawi to raise money for local schools. It should be a crack, the Liverpool crew are involved." "Ok" I said. That’s how it started. The flight to Nairobi was easy enough. But as I came off the plane, I saw the flight to Malawi taking off. It was leaving 30 minutes early. I asked why. "It’s the captains’ brother’s birthday, he wants to get back." No option but to stay overnight in town. I found a bar with a tony allen style drummer, but a local told me that staying there would be ‘insane’. The day after, still no flight to Malawi. So they dropped me in Johannesburg instead. I couldn’t get out of the airport because I didn't have a yellow fever certificate. The staff went home. I was stuck between two sets of barriers. The only way out was to ring the alarm chord in the disabled toilet. Once out of there, via this and that i ran into an old raver who flew a Cessna around the outback. Navigating by the smoke of bush fires, he took me up to the Lake of Stars. 3 days after leaving home, I was looking out at the thousands of candle lit fishing boats that give the lake it’s name. Alongside was a stand selling home made T Shirts with the slogan 'Where the F*** is Andy Cato'. A bit tough given the journey.
We setup in Camden with an 8 track and mixer Mark had made out of BBC volume pots screwed into a wardrobe door. There was George and Stan, the GA Live guitar and bass players, and Andy on the drums before he went on the road with Faithless. We'd had a weekend on the road doing festivals, followed by a Sunday night with Richie Havens at the Jazz Cafe over the road. Monday evening, the air around the 8 track was heavy and this groove went down in one take. Later I recorded a vocal in the neighbours bathroom. Only the instrumental survived…
This is one of the most recent. The co-writer on this is Mike Monday, who was originally in Beat Foundation with me right at the beginning. Having toured the UK and Ibiza in our rave ambulance we found ourselves 20 years later sat in a cowshed studio outside Toulouse with the rain pouring down. Nostalgia in the air.
Me and a friend drove over the Pennines in a Hillman Imp that somehow got me to a lot of free parties in the four corners of the UK. I remember coming over a hill, down into Castlemorton, and you were just aware, even then, that you were part of something that was going to become folklore. A few days later I ended up in a studio in Acton doing a session with a guy who wanted some big Italo-rave piano lines. While he wasn’t there I got this 8-bar groove going, which is why it doesn’t change much. I wanted it on there because it takes me back to a life changing weekend.
Our time in LA began brilliantly when we did our best ever DJ set at a place called Fay Dodo’s Ballroom. We did an unplanned history of hip hop, disco and house then carried on down the road until the long arm of the LA law put his hand on my shoulder saying “that, son, is your last record”. From there we were quite feted in LA. If we wanted to go more than 10 yards we had to take a limo. We did a gig at the Museum of Flying and went along with the promoters ‘great idea’ to arrive in a Sopwith Camel. Walking across the dancefloor to the booth in scarf and goggles the idea was feeling less great. But there’s something poignant about LA, because everyone’s a wannabe of some sort. I remember working on this tune whilst overlooking sunset strip watching a waitress in the Palmero arranging her hair in the empty window, waiting for her big break.
Mark managed us for a while and he had a place up in Woodstock. Italian american, he knew how to cook. We spent a few days up there, went to a few blues jams, and you get into this frame of mind where you only want to listen to Blonde On Blonde. I got a recording of a couple of chords on the grand piano. As we headed back to NYC along the river it turned into a soundtrack for the wide open spaces.
We’d had a long night in a club in Montreal. Driving down to the border with the States, heading towards Boston,we got the full dogs treatment from the American border guards. It was the moment when the lawless tour bus bubble almost got burst. When it had quietened down, there was just the bus driver, Noof he was called, and me , miles and miles of dark road and the lost faces of the night before.
This is track done with Tom (GA). We did a Creamfields DJ gig to maybe 100,000 people or more. The morning after, there was a problem with flights and itineraries and we ended up staying in Buenos Aires for a week. In exchange for a couple of DJ sets, someone gave us an apartment with a terrace overlooking the town. We got out the deck chairs, laptop, speakers and created a 24 hour rooftop studio. Opposite was an apartment block with all of life on display. Pure Hitchcock.
It was on one of the early transit-van-in-Europe tours. There was some time off to go up the mountains. We ran into a party crew up there. A couple of days later, the drive back to the tour bus, a full moon and the flashing lights of the workmen on the peaks, took on a Blade Runner-on-ice feel. There was a Tangerine Dream tune playing. This track is a tripped out version of that idea.
This album is the taken from the moments in between the dancefloors. So this last track is the only bit of house music on here, and is an extract from a 12” I put out on the PackUpAndDance label me and a mate had going in Barcelona. It’s DiY (sound system) inspired. I came home from one of their parties with a bassline in my head and to this day I don’t know whether it’s one I heard that night or one I wrote. If it’s stolen, I’ll give you one back.
You might have heard of Andy Cato. There’s Groove Armada (of course). And before that, there was The Beat Foundation, as well as Journey Man DJ, Big C, The System, Seventh Sense and a whole bewildering array of others large and small. That’s some pedigree, chum.
He’s been a bit of a musical prodigy for a while. There were the forays into piano playing, spurred on by a trad-jazz lovin’ dad, the blues gigs to earn some cash. He plays the trombone, too, a beautiful and majestic instrument with the right amount of puff and embouchure. And, as a Barnsley lad, there’s only one place for a trombone player with chops and that’s a brass band, the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, only one of the finest collection of horn players about. “The standard of musicianship was like nothing I’ve encountered since,” claims Andy. “Amazing.”
Inevitably, there was an intrusion of the rave variety that thwarted plans for brass domination. “I remember the occasional pretty vividly,” he recalls. “I went to Leeds one night and it was one of the first parties organised by Tony Hannon, who used to do Kaos and Soak. It was one of those epiphanies when you walk into a room [nods head] and go, “OK. Yeah, I’ll have some of that.” These feelings were cemented by his older cousin, Digs, partner to Whoosh and part of the Nottingham legends DiY sound system, who introduced him to a world of squat parties, military transport, lugging sound systems and, of course, exquisite taste in deep house.
It was a whirl of activity. There was the studio underneath the snooker club. The formation of the Beat Foundation, who signed a deal with Virgin, The tours up and down the byways and raveways of the UK. But fate intervened. Andy’s then girlfriend Jo (now wife), introduced him to Tom Findlay. That’s Groove Armada, that is. “We ended up in east London it was still a bit more of a ruin and we wound up doing warehouse parties with Tim ‘Love’ Lee.”
Their first album was recorded in a week in the Yorkshire Dales, after Tim had asked them to record a 12-inch to promote their parties. Zoe Ball championed ‘At The River’ and they began to fly. The rest is hysteria. There are echoes of those early freewheeling Groove Armada recordings in the DNA of Times & Places. “Some of the tunes on the album come from around that period and even before that, in idea form at least. I suppose it’s written in a similar way; it’s an uncomplicated, morning-after take on dance music.”
Like an elephant’s pregnancy, this album has been gestating for some time, almost 20 years in fact (the first is from 1993). “I was travelling back from a gig recently and I had an idea for a tune . I was just jotting it down and I thought, ‘I’ve been doing this for ages, I wonder where all the others are?’ So I went to find the remaining fragments and try and put them together. Everyone of these songs immediately takes me back to a place and a time where it all happened.”
Sorting through the corrupted discs, snapped four and eight-track tapes, the withered floppy discs and the plain missing, part of the process of creating the album has been the search and, in a few cases, restoration. “Most of them have not been touched,” explains Andy. “I’ve had to recreate one or two because they were on C-90s and even if you like the lo-fi aesthetic, it was just too much. But some of them were in great nick, like the one recorded at Abbey Road.”
This is a personal record of someone’s trip through the mortal maze of dance music. “I did it for me,” asserts Cato. “I was worried that anyone else might not have the same feelings when they heard the tracks, but I played it to some people and they seemed to get caught up in the journey as well.” It’s all in there somewhere. The squat raves. The Pepsi-sponsored stages. The DJ gigs in front of 100,000 people. Arriving at an LA gig in a Sopwith Camel. It’s a history of the past 20 years through the lens of one person. Enjoy the ride.