Six Albums with Gemma Ray
In terms of pop music, there are three things I adore more than almost anything else. Strings. That’s one thing. Strings only ever terrifically sad or horrendously fun. The latter are the best, obviously. They can make you feel like you’re in a Bond film, and that can only be a good thing. Fun choruses. Also a good thing. Singalongs! I love a good catchy singalong chorus. In short, I want my pop music to make me happy. I want the ruddy thing to be so fun it almost – almost - makes me want to go jogging to it. Hello Gemma Ray. Hello you wonderful thing, whose song Runaway ticks off every one of my boxes. Who has covered Sparks with Sparks. Welcome to Six Albums. Please tell me what you listened to that made your music SO DAMN FUN.
Van Morrison – Astral Weeks I got turned onto this album in my late teens. I love the way it swings, the grove is amazing and the bass playing has so much movement and freedom. It feels like the entire album is one special moment after special moment – it’s impossible not to get sucked into it. If I could make a record that captures even half the spirit of this, I think I might die happy. It a constant source of reference to me when I’m recording and looking for a take with a certain something to it.
Portishead – Dummy My big sister had this on cassette, and it quickly became a comforting second home to me, a world full of reverb, mystery and intrigue. I think this may have become lodged in my subconcious when I started recording and experimenting with sound and the space around it. I listened to it from beginning to end again recently, and heard it with totally new ears – it stood out in stark contrast to this current trend for soul-less, over-singing, and I couldn’t believe how fresh and inspiring it still sounded.
Krzysztof Komeda – Astigmatic This is a more recent influence. After becoming a big fan of his soundtrack work with Roman Polanski, I got a bit frustrated listening to the audio releases of his soundtracks as obviously the nature of film scores mean they often end up being cut up randomly. I delved into his other work which led me to open my mind towards a new way of listening to music and the way melody and harmony can be presented. I listened to this a lot in 2011, and quite enjoyed the album, but was initially more intrigued than absorbed by it. However, by the end of the year I became hooked – something just seemed to click.
Nina Simone – Forbidden Fruit I think this may have encouraged my already slightly unorthadox song arranging instincts to go for what felt right rather than a traditional song structure for the sake of it. I love the way some recordings of hers can evoke a time, tale or mood and feel more like a free piece of music than a ‘song’ as such.. I liked the groove of the band, the sudden mood swings, and the way she really leads both her band and her songs. I loved her ferocious piano playing and the pure joy and release captured within it alongside a feeling of frustration which gave it an edge I could identify with from a young age. I think this gave me some reassurance when I first started playing live to do it my way, and to go off on a tangent and play what I felt in the moment.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – No More Shall We Part I love the way this record swoons and sweeps – it’s so atmospheric. Thomas Wydler’s drumming dynamics, feel and mood inspired me very much, and the whole bands sense of drama really got under my skin. It captured an odd but exhilarting period of time for me when I first moved to London and I rented a very sparse room from an Egyptian belly dancer in West Hampstead with lots of cats. To me, it recalls the feeling of living truly alone in a big city for the first time, with an excited but heavy heart, dreaming of a romance but feeling very isolated. I had a big songwriting binge as a result and listened to this album a lot.
Lee Hazlewood – Poet, Fool or Bum Though I’m a huge fan of the songs themselves, I think the production of this album influenced me more. Ambitous, grand and cinematic but uncluttered – great soulful musicianship but playfulness too. I love the way the production rubs against some lyrics, but most of all, I’m obsessed by the bass sound! (and playing). I heard it was achieved by blending upright, plectrum electric and semi-acoustic bass but I’m not sure if that’s true. I love Lee Hazlewood, and would love to have had the chance to work with him or be a fly on the wall when he was making records.
Go buy Gemma Ray’s fantastic EP ‘Runaway’ right now – it has genuine shades of early Bond soundtracks mixed with occasional tinges of Björk’s vocals. Which is my way of saying that it’s bloody excellent.