London Sound Survey – These Are The Good Times
A Long Player on Vitelli Records
A review by John Andrews
‘These Are The Good Times’ announces Ian M. Rawes the man behind The London Sound Survey and the architect, along with the track compiler Nick Hamilton, of the new vinyl long player – Field Recordings From London in the Early 21st Century which is out now on Vitelli Records. Rawes has ears for the new epoch and each and every one of its apocalyptic possibilities and mundane realities. Over 21 tracks he sculpts a landscape that echoes as if populated only by ghosts. On the opener ‘The River Lea Waste Depot’ there is a sense of space so peacefully enticing that it beckons you in as if to a Garden of Eden although it is not until ‘Pellicci’s Cafe’ that there are what you might call familiar voices, in the form of a human conversation about a lunch order, something strangely re-assuring set against the hum of machine driven ambience. All the while the tracks merge and flow into one another conjuring up a mesmeric dreamscape, forming a sonic map of London’s subconscious, the ‘unheard’ sounds, the background noise that every Londoner absorbs through dirty pores and which goes to make up the collective consciousness of the city. ‘Pearly Kings and Queens’ appears at once both parochial and exotic, the overlapping song like something not from the 21st Century but from the 19th. Those Ghosts again. ‘Cigarette Ponce’, begging to be written under ‘occupation’ in the back of every passport is upstaged by the ‘Joke Telling Beggar’whilst ‘Thames Festival Fireworks’ brings the curtain down on side one and made one listener with whom I listened to this record for the first time stand up and applaud spontaneously.
Side Two opens with the horns of the ‘Coryton Refinery Sirens’, begging to be a single, a pop song for the doomed generation of this impossibly hard edged and empty new century, for whom one day surely a similar siren will sound the end before another one hundred years is eventually out. ‘Caribbean Sunday Service’ spooks like an American deep South church full of spellbound crazies and could quite easily have been christened Canvey Island Voodoo, a lullaby to make you want to lie down obediently in an impromptu marsh grave. ‘Motorcycle Wall of Death’ fills the speakers as if it was recorded at the end of the sixties. You can smell the damp sand, the sawdust peculiar only to circus tents, the sulphurous mix of diesel and cigarette smoke. I could not believe that this track was recorded only last year in Dulwich, weeks before the Olympics opened a few miles away to much fanfare. The motorcyclists show of courage was surely THE spectacle that should have opened the games. A gang of un-insured riders in rhinestone suits (for what else would you wear to ride the ‘Wall of Death’) out-doing one another just off the Number 176 bus route.
Via the ‘Flying Ants’ Nest’ and ‘The Poet of Villiers Street’ the record closes with ‘Pipistrelle Bat Sonar’ recorded in Catford on the 14th October 2009. Oh yes, these are indeed the good times. On his sleeve notes Rawes says ‘I hope you hear something recorded that’ll put you in mind of sounds you’ve heard in real life but kept to yourself as private, unspoken experiences. Someone whistling at the far end of a tube platform, voices from a curtainless room above a shop, a blackbird singing at night in an empty street, the rising tone of a lorry’s brakes early on a cold morning’. I am thankful as I think you will be if you buy this record that Rawes chose not to keep all that he has heard and recorded as his own ‘private and unspoken experience’. By sharing these 21 tracks on vinyl he has composed a love-letter to London and a love-letter that will make all who hear it feel simultaneously lost and found. Oh yes, these are indeed the good times, the ones that when you stand witness to them will leave you with tears in your eyes and ironically for a record that does not comprise of something more traditionally akin to the medium, a song in your heart.
Andrews of Arcadia.
You may follow Ian’s continuing work as The London Sound Survey on his website soundsurvey.org.uk. You may also see him live where he introduces and plays field recordings from the past three centuries and has the capacity to silence any room in awe at what they will hear.