(From Select, now-defunct Brit music magazine published by the NME, October 1990)
Coleman & Dudley
The pairing of Killing Joke madhead Jaz Coleman and classical music graduate Anne Dudley, ex-Art Of Noise, seems an unlikely alliance, but their recording with a 30-piece Egyptian orchestra is one of this year's most interesting concepts
Talk Like An Egyptian
Anne Dudley and Jaz Coleman are, it must be said, an unlikely pair. He, the legendary madhead of Killing Joke, all wild eyes and prone to zoom off on bizarre expeditions. She, half of the Art Of Noise, arranger to Phil Collins and Macca, a font of English fairness and things done nicely.
But, sometime last year, they are introduced and Jaz comes round to her place for some advice on the orchestral compositions he's been struggling with for the several years. Jaz gets talking about Egypt, which he has been visiting since 1983, and about his idea for writing for an Egyptian orchestra and recording it in Cairo. He plays her some Egyptian pop cassettes and she says yes, interesting idea. . . .
So in April this year Anne Dudley and Jaz Coleman went to Cairo and recorded "Songs From The Victorious City" with a 30-piece orchestra. Back in London, having added rhythms and basslines and agreed the final cut of what has emerged as a strange and compelling record, they're both absolutely delighted.
"It's probably the most interesting thing I've ever done - and the most challenging," Anne muses. "We studied all the instruments, found what we liked, scored it all out before we went, but going to Cairo was something I initially thought wasn't going to work.
"I was afraid that once we took it to Cairo and gave it to these musicians they'd either turn their noses up at it, or they wouldn't understand it, or somehow be hostile to it. But none of that happened."
"They were blown away!" affirms Jaz. "We've been invited back. I've been asked to write a concerto for one of Egypt's great violinists. We were the first Western artists they could recall even recording in Cairo, let alone composing for them. I think they saw their culture through our eyes, which was quite revealing for them. They were moved by that."
The project came at a time when both principal parties were looking for new challenges. Anne was no longer part of the Art Of Noise, which had "reached the end of its useful life", and Jaz was emerging from the two most difficult years of his life. Killing Joke had been strung up in litigation with a record company and touring America to pay the bills.
Life in general was falling apart.
"The whole band went through incredible stress and I had a nervous breakdown and psychiatric treatment. Financially, it got to the stage where I was going to lose everything. I couldn't even afford to feed the people I loved. It got really bad. I wrote lyrics at that time which nowadays frighten the life out of me.
"My immediate association with 'Songs From The Victorious City' was giving up all forms of intoxication -- for me, it was something good coming into my life. It was self-discovery too, because I've got Persian and some Indian blood in me and I was always attracted to music with quarter-tones in it. I've never really felt at home in England. I've always felt like a foreigner. Going over there, I found some part of myself within the project, so it has deep personal significance for me."
For Jaz, happy days are here again. He's made an elusive, romantic album on which he had the chance to play the violin it took his father five years to make. Killing Joke are nearing completion of a particularly nasty album, and he has a headful of ideas that aren't driving him insane.
It should be made clear at this point that 'Songs From The Victorious City' is not world music and neither is it the latest in a stream of dodgy "Arabic House" records. The shimmering quality of the recording and the sheer bite of the massed strings make it sound both Western and modern, but, apart from a handful of basslines, the recording is live and sequencer-free. That's something both parties have strong feelings about.
"I believe in a fundamentalist backlash in music," says Jaz. "I believe in live music. Unfortunately all you see being done in live music is all these indie bands that the papers promote. I spoke to someone the other day who said they'd been to see the Happy Mondays and they said that everyone stopped dancing once the house music stopped and the band came on sounding all small and tinny. 'We don't like live music anymore' they said and it was a sad day for me.
"What I really object to is the incessant sampling and reliance on technology. I consider the rhythm as something sacred -- it locks in with the human pulse. When I hear machine music and talk about BPMs all the time, I know I'm going in a completely different direction.
"But I'm interested in '90s music. I thought The Mission doing old Led Zeppelin riffs was bad enough, but now there's all these kids doing '60s stuff. I listened to the new four-track EP by Inspiral Carpets and just laughed my head off at that, it was awful. The Stone Roses on Top Of The Pops -- ghastly hippy music that I don't identify with at all."
And Anne Dudley, half of one of the original pop sampling outfits?
"The Art Of Noise were sampling eight years ago, with a kind of tongue-in-cheek attitude, in a spirit of experimentation -- for fun. And now, eight years on, people are still churning out the same ideas but without the humour and without the spark of improvisation we used to put into it. It's all a bit depressing and the most depressing thing about contemporary dance music is these appalling remixes of things like Suzanne Vega and Diana Ross. To me it's the death of music."
Uh-huh . . . it says here that Steve Prevell has done a couple of "dance remixes" from 'Songs From The Victorious City'. Cue sheepish looks. . . .
"Whatever that means . . ." adds Anne. "Basically, I feel a little bit uneasy about it, but it's simply a way of getting the music across to people because it doesn't fit the format of the Steve Wright show. So we're almost forced into dance remixes because that's a way of getting across to people without having to go through a radio format. We've kept a close rein on it and I don't think there's anything on it that we don't like. We have to admit that we're not expert at it anymore, if we ever were, and we've tried to get the best people to do it."
If it's Jaz who has been the emotional engine for the project, then it's Anne who has the more academic fascination with what they're trying to do, as you'd expect from a top of the class graduate from the Royal College Of Music.
"Do you find it approachable? You didn't find it alienating in any way? That's what we've been afraid of, because we've gotten so used to the Arabic styles of melody that they sound quite normal to us."
She probably need have no fears. Untrained ears will bypass the Arabic scales and fix on the overwhelmingly descriptive nature of pieces like "Force And Fire" and "The Endless Festival". In Western terms, 'Songs' is like a soundtrack waiting for a movie. In Egypt they're more familiar with the concept of melodic narrative.
Even in the unlikely event that every pop buyer in the Western world goes into cultural shock at the thought of the album, the Arabic market beckons. Cairo is the centre of Arabic music, where everyone comes to record. Egypt's population is 60 million and within the region 130 million people share the same language and fundamentally the same culture. We in the West tend to forget these things.
Egyptian music is also marked by a more genuine crossover between the pop and classical worlds. The orchestra on the album might have gone on to whack out a Kuwaiti pop record in an afternoon or settled for recording a serious classical work from either side of the Mediterranean.
Both Dudley and Coleman also moved from serious music training to the pop world (albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum).
"I was from the music college background," Anne explains, "but I found pop and jazz and all those other kinds of music much more creative, especially for someone who has the kind of abilities that I have, which tend to be in the range of improvisation, melodies and harmonies. If you were a composer when I was at college, those abilities were a positive drawback. If you didn't write a new piece of music that sounded like a few squeaky gates then you were just not in with the in crowd.
"When I came out of college and started doing sessions and arranging for people, I found far more creativity. The musicians who'd come in to play sessions would have good ideas and I didn't get that from the classical side of things. I didn't consider that I changed though; I see it as one thing."
For Jaz, giving up on the piano lessons was a simpler matter.
"I became a hooligan!" he grins. "And I formed a band with my hooligan mates. And one side of me still is a yob, unfortunately."
When, several years ago, Jaz's Dad gave him the hand-made violin instead of the severe wigging he'd been expecting, it was the cue for a revival of interest in orchestral music and, after an unwise attempt to blend it into Killing Joke (are we talking Emerson, Lake And Palmer or what?), he has pursued it as a separate obsession.
He's been studying orchestration with Peter Sanders of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra (who, oddly enough, taught Anne 15 years ago) and his big symphonic work has just gone to the printers after several years' toil. He has also composed a piece for the 800th anniversary of an English abbey, setting to music the Latin words of Genesis Chapter 18, Verse 6.
" 'And then there were giants in the earth in those days . . . . ' a very ambiguous section of the Bible -- it'll be a right laugh seeing that come to fruition."
He's up at 6 am most days writing, before sitting down at his dodgy piano or heading off to a Killing Joke rehearsal.
Anne is equally busy.
"I'm a hack, basically; I'll do what people ask me to do. And I'll enjoy it thoroughly and hopefully do a good job on it. This morning I was at Abbey Road with the London Symphony Orchestra, doing an arrangement for 'Classic Rock Volume 94' or whatever.
"But it's lovely to do these things because people pay you, you have fun and you're gaining extremely valuable experience every time you go into the studio.
"So I do string arrangements, keyboard sessions, the odd TV commercial, the odd production -- I thrive on the variety."
Jaz still travels a lot. He and Killing Joke guitarist Geordie and their wives still spend time in the wilds of New Zealand. The new Joke album, 'Extremities, Dirt And Various Repressed Emotions' is "the most intense ever in the history of Killing Joke.
"I've found peace by being able to express myself. I don't take any drugs, I meditate and in the most difficult time in my life I invoked that which was higher than me, whatever name you want to put to it. That healed my life and l live in that now with my music."
The pair will almost certainly work together again -- and this project won't be considered completed until 'Songs From The Victorious City' is performed live in Cairo and London. They're working on that.
"I think we're good for each other," Anne smiles.
"What Anne and I have done is and my other classical work are one side of my musical life and Killing Joke is the other," adds Jaz. "It's reached an equilibrium. It's a schizoid life at the moment. Jekyll and Hyde -- although I don't know which is which!"
"Or Abbott and Costello, maybe?" Anne adds impishly, and they both start laughing.