Paul Hardcastle – Nineteen And Beyond: Paul Hardcastle 1984-1988 (Chrysalis Records)
The impact Paul Hardcastle’s single ’19’ had on, anyone living in 1985 was immense. It was not just the visuals that accompanied and the hard beats, but the message that “In World War II, the average age of the Combat Soldier was 26. In Vietnam, he was 19.” This was a lyric, repeated throughout the number. You might’ve thought was enough, but Paul had laced this with sampled documentary narration that drew the listener into the story of a conflict that began in 1954 and didn’t cease until 1975. We might have avoided homework at the time, unaware that Paul was encouraging us to imbibe this social history and that was something that might shape how we view the world. A jazz musician, who was born in Kensington, London on the 10th of December 1957, began his career in 1981, becoming a keyboard player for the British soul band, Direct Drive. Hardcastle would leave their embraces and with lead vocalist Derek Green and formed the duo First Light. These were to find minor success in the UK charts, but the project was to be abandoned after just two years. Hardcastle was then to pursue a solo career and this is where our story begins. This four-CD box set includes 52 tracks that feature some of the finest electro music that 1984 to 1988 had to offer.
Starting this set, wearing a wide-collared shirt, taupe trousers and maybe a comfortable sweater, is the suitably titled ‘In The Beginning’. It might be thought odd that I should describe a track this way, but from the very beginning, early synthesiser and drum machine speak to me with an 80s vibe, with the panache circa the first series of Miami Vice. The repetitive drum pattern, electronic notes and feel of this number tell of a time when social media was found in the back pages of Jackie magazine and the word-wide-web was still in the minds of its developers. And a Mars Bar costs under 20p. This first disc, I would call the main course. It features tracks that will be most memorable to an artist who has gone on to become not only influential as a pioneer of electronic music but is now known as a hugely successful songwriter and producer. In 1985 Hardcastle drew on the vocal talents of Carol Kenyon, a singer who would later work with Brothers in Rhythm, in this case taking ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ to number 8 in the UK charts. This track he dusted with his keyboard magic, which combined with Carol’s vocal still proves solid today. In the same year, he worked with Bob Hoskins on a fictitious account, where Hoskins portrayed mobster Al Capone. This was a musical journey that utilised technology, along with actors Ed O’Ross and Laurence Olivier, creating a mind-bending journey that saw us ask quite where were we. Wherever we were, the track was great and its spell, bewitching. Another number ‘Moonhopper’, an instrumental that was just that, a walk in the park and ‘Strollin’ continued the theme of transit, but this time took 80s funk to a more intense level. Heavier bass played with top notes, creating what might be considered a fruity bouquet.
For anyone interested in just how we moved from artists such as Paul Hardcastle to the likes of the Hartnoll brothers and Orbital, then you couldn’t do any better than to listen to this. Tracks like ‘Rain Forest’, released shortly before Hardcastle’s real breakthrough, contained a sweeter melody and plays with less aggressive beats than was heard on Orbital’s ‘Chime’ for instance, a number released just four years later. I would like to hear the music Paul Hardcastle might have produced had he come of age during the acid-house of the late ’80s. Although it could also be argued, would rave have sounded quite the same had the evolution from music provided by Paul Hardcastle not occurred? This a question I will have to chew on while I continue through the rest of this set. As ‘The Asylum (It’zWeird)‘ rounds off this first disc, a number which certainly veers toward what we heard in music born from the later 80s, although is perhaps more relevant to film scores heard during this time.
The second disc, titled The Mixes 1 commences with four versions of the track ‘Eat Your Heart Out’, a number played with Paul’s signature keyboard dexterity and features the vocal talents of Kevin Henry. All versions come with a fat 1980s presentation, the first of these, the ‘Special Remix’ takes my vote. A chilling remix of ‘Just For Money’, with Olivier’s vocal introduction might be more fitting a Hammer Horror than an audio presentation, then it’s onto the main feature and five versions of ’19’. The first of these, ‘The Destruction Mix’ comes complete with the sound of a twin-blade chopper hovering overhead and encapsulates the urgency the track provided back in 1985. With two instrumentals also included, both the ‘Extended Mix’ and ‘The Final Story’, vie for the listener’s attention and who wouldn’t want to hear the conclusion to the story? ‘King Tut’ is included, with the ‘U.S. mix’ taking prime placing over the standard version heard on the first disc. Otherwise known as Tutankhamun, the tomb of this Pharaoh of ancient Egypt was relatively unknown until the early 1920s and has now been immortalised in this number, from 1984. What follows is a tune anyone who watched Top Of The Pops in the mid-1980s will be aware of. Even extending to Top Of The Pops 2 reruns today, as Paul Hardcastle’s ‘The Wizard’ comes into earshot, but only Part 1, as further journeys will have to wait until disc 3. It was in 1986 that this tune was adopted as the theme of the well-known music programme and this 7″ version featured the occasional vocal of Geoffrey Bayldon, an actor who was otherwise known for his role as The Crowman in BBC’s Worzel Gummidge. Of course, Paul Hardcastle was initially known as a jazz musician and it is with this mind that he remixed one of the four versions of ‘The Wizard’, this time void of vocals, instead using a jazz swing. This in fairness is unrecognisable from the track that was adopted by the BBC and proceeds with a chilled vibe.
An extended version of a track titled ’40 Years’ features on the third disc, in which Hardcastle returns to the subject of war. In this number, he uses a rap vocal, metal guitar and occasional soundbites of Ronald Regan. The track makes a mockery of world leaders’ attempts at peace when the nuclear bomb is at their fingertips. In my opinion, this is the most relevant track available in this set and leaves me in mind of the vocal “Will there be a world in 40 years?” Bringing the atmosphere created by the previous number to a more palatable one and bearing in mind Hardcastle’s roots, the following track ‘Just Passin’ Thru’ demonstrates this ability well. The final disc appears to be almost a sketchbook, as this writer, producer and remixer present No Winners. The fourth track ‘The Last Jam’ in my mind illustrates just where Hardcastle has both come from and where he’s been, as pieces sampled mingle with both rap and straight vocals, “When the drumbeats go like this,” and “This is a test of the emergency system,” along with Gujarati passages of the song. Perhaps not the most engaging of content is featured on this disc, but is a demonstration of how he works, offering an insight into this wizard of sound and maybe an inspiration to others. I love to see Paul Hardcastle perform and this set of recordings is a lively look at this musician during the four years that were a springboard to his success. A time strangely similar to those we are living through, as once again war appears to be a concern.
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