Greetings! This is the first post in my brand new Miniatures blog. I’m delighted to have the chance to share more with you now than I could in the original type-written sleeve notes such as the one you see above. Back in 1980 I had to somehow squeeze sleeve notes for over 50 tracks onto one side of the Miniatures LP cover, quickly, on a borrowed typewriter. Not so easy (I managed it by leaving no spaces after full stops, commas, or brackets). But now, the wide open spaces of a virgin blog lay before me, inviting me to r a m b l e . . .
To find out what this blog and these albums are all about, please click the ABOUT button at the top of this page. By now I hope you have already listened to the opening track by clicking the little Play button at the top-left of this page (where, all being well, it should appear in all my posts). “M1-1” indicates that this is the first track on Miniatures 1 (originally released in 1980). Good ! One down, 52 to go. Then on to the 2000 follow-up, Miniatures 2. This will all take me about a year if I post about twice a week…
I had an incredible time recording and collecting the 113 tiny masterpieces that appear on the two Miniatures albums – it thoroughly fulfilled me by allowing me to enjoy a brief but always stimulating brush with a host of my heroes and compadres. This project was my response to receiving a generous invitation from Iain McNay, boss of Cherry Red Records, to make my own little label (which I called Pipe Records – right after lighting a pipe to help me relax and think about what to call my new label – that took care of that then). Iain promised that he would release literally anything I chose record under the Pipe imprint. Such a wide-open invitation threw me into immediate confusion. I knew I wanted to collaborate with musicians who I admired, so I started to make a list of them. The list got longer and longer and longer. How to decide? “No need to decide,” came a Zen-like voice from somewhere inside, “have them all on the album!” After a few days of wrestling with how do do THAT, another Zen-simple response popped up – “One minute each – call it Miniatures.”
(digression) Interestingly, at the same time as I was preparing “Miniatures” I embarked on a project that was diametrically opposed to it – very pure, simple, focussed – a collaboration with one musician, the great saxophonist Lol Coxhill. I did not even play on that album – rather, I recorded his beautiful performance of Handel’s “Largo” and then spent two weeks looping, layering, and processing it to create my first ambient-style album. Iain McNay, also in Zen mood, chose the title – “Slow Music.” Here’s an excerpt of the 10-minute opening track (the title was provided by Miniatures artist Alejandro Viñao and means “Rest In Peace” in Spanish):
(back on track) One of the most hilarious experiences of making “Miniatures” was recording this track by two of England’s finest cricketers (joke) and musicians (no joke – these guys’ playing astounds me) on a 4-track TEAC 3340s in my little bedsit in Linden Gardens, Notting Hill Gate (5th floor – no lift). The song was literally improvised on the spot, with John (normally a drummer) singing a drooling lounge-lizard mock-sentimental love ballad, first in English – and then suddenly, in German! I played dog-simple Rickenbacker bass while Ollie doodled on guitar. Then John added percussion while I enhanced the “Ich liebe…” bit with some synth-orchestra. I knew this had to be the first track on the album and decided it would be appropriate for me to recite a 60-second countdown, to keep the lads in order.
“The lads” were originally two-fifths of a fabulous soul band Timebox, who mutated into one of the most extraordinarily bluesy yet progressive (in the best, shredding, cutting-edge sense of the word) unit called Patto (whose albums stand alone and unique in the pantheon of Great Undiscovered Rock – google and youtube them, you will be astonished). Ollie later became the 5th member of the brilliant Beatles parody band The Rutles, playing astonishing guitar on the albums (and doing a fair proportion of the singing, later lip-synced by Eric Idle) but only appearing in one or two photographs and clips as Leppo, the fifth Rutle who got lost in Hamburg. Apart from all the japes, Ollie was an unbelievably intuitive musician and could play literally anything, at speed, with no rehearsal. His prowess also shined on the work he did with John Cale, Tempest and Kevin Ayers.
I later got to play with Ollie on Neil Innes’ “Innes Book of Records” TV series, and with Ollie and John on an album and tour backing John Otway (who was produced by Neil Innes; both John and Neil are Miniatures 1 artistes). It was different and brilliant every single night – which is what real music should be. (Please see the post re Otway’s track for numerous pix of us all on tour). John “Admiral” Halsey – drummer for The Rutles – still plays at occasional Rutles events, and runs the marvellous Castle pub in Cambridge.
Ollie headed for the great gig in the sky on 29 May 1992, aged just 43, after an overdose of heroin in his home at Calle de la Amargura (which means ‘Bitterness Street’), Madrid. He was by far the finest, most jaw-droppingly fluent guitarist I have ever had the pleasure of playing with; I place him up there with Hendrix and Zappa – as many admirers do. Here’s an outstanding website featuring music, words, and videos by and about him: www.olliehalsall.co.uk
Thank you! Feel free to comment via the Comments button in the left margin, or write to me directly via the Contact page… Morgan Fisher, in Tokyo.
Next up – one of the truly strangest, and most anonymous, bands in the history of music…