When a R$N scribe came across two C30 tapes when clearing out the attic of his uncle’s flat he thought he’d give them a listen. The tapes contained a clutch of electronic sketches that sounded like something beamed down from Jupiter – synths, drum machines, the occasional vocal snatch – a very spacy form of funk.
The only thing written on the tapes was the name VERLAINE. According to his uncle, the tapes belonged to an old friend of his, Michael, who he hadn’t been in touch with for nearly two decades. Our scribe managed to track down the mystery musician through the power of google and sent an email to ask about the music on the tapes – had it been released, when was it made? On the back of that initial email the two have stayed in touch and the majority of the music on the tapes is now set to be released on vinyl later in 2014. We got in touch with the mysterious Verlaine to unearth the history of the man and the music..he gave us an exclusive demo to stream off the original tapes into the bargain…
Hi Michael, so can you kick off by telling us who you are and where youre from?
Yeah, sure – my names Michael and Im a musician, well an ex-musician, really. I was born in Chicago but came to live in London with my mum when I was about 3 years old, which would have been 1968.
When its in you – being a musician – its there for good though, isnt it?
Yeah, well, maybe, I dont know about that actually? Anyway, the last time I wrote or recorded any music was, what, nearly 30 years ago – I think the last recordings were done in 1986, maybe 87. I havent written or recorded since then, mid to late 80s. Before that Id been writing music since I was in my early teens, and that was, oh, about 1978 I started, when I was eighteen or so.
And what kind of music were you writing back then?
Ha, well to start off with I was really into funk and maybe a bit of disco, but more like, you know, New Orleans funk really, so The Meters, Eddie Bo, Allen Toussaint produced stuff – I was kind of old fashioned I suppose – my friends were into things like new wave, some of the disco being made in Europe, France and Italy at the time, they were a lot more hip to what was going on, I was just into my mums records and she was into old funk and blues so that was my bag too I suppose!
And did you record any of that early stuff?
Oh no, no – I mean it was terrible, fucking awful really! I was trying to write New Orleans funk on this old battered piano we had at home, it wasnt even close, you know, I mistook all those simple tunes as being simple to play, you know, theyre not! Thats a big part of the art of music I think- making things seem simple when in fact, theyre fucking complicated!
So, when did you first record your music?
Well, even though I was shit when I started out, I was tenacious – I had a real hunger to improve. I think the first time I recorded stuff was maybe 1981, 82. The piano at my mums was really battered and out of tune but I had a friend whos mum and dad were these really wealthy sort of arty types living in St Johns Wood and theyd bought him this synthesizer for his birthday, it was a korg, errm, a korg 700, or 770, something like that – a little wedge of a thing – and he wasnt remotely interested in it, just thought it was shit. So, I bought it off him – in installments! The thing had cost his mum and dad hundreds of pounds and he sold it to me for 50! I paid him 2.50 a month, and after about three month he lost interest, so the thing cost me about 10 in the end, I think! His mum and dad must have been furious! So, anyway – I had that and it was great to mess about on – all these amazing sounds, it was fantastic.
Bargain! And that got you into recording?
Well, that got me into more modern music. Once Id had this thing a week, I was fucking space disco, you know! It was a mono synth, so you couldnt play chords and that – but it wasnt really bout that – it was the knobs and dials, and what they did to the sound of the thing. You cant help but get spacey sounds out of those things, its impossible not to really! So, by that point, the pirate radio stations around North London were playing a lot of electrofunk, the sort of stuff that was quite out there. I started getting into all that – the BB&Q band, Cameo, obviously Prince. Music was changing, becoming more synthetic and for me, it felt more achievable – it was less to aim at than trying to be the Meters, you know – all of them at once! So, yeah, I knew your uncle by then and he was buying and selling musical equipment – I managed to convince him to lend me a four track tape recorder – a tascam 144 I think it was, and he also leant me a drum machine, a crappy one at first a Dr Rhythm, you know them dont you?
Yeah, horrible little things – theyve got four sounds on them?
Yeah, haha! Thats them. Well I had that for a week but it was just terrible, so I gave that back and saved a bit of money to buy a dodgy Oberheim off him a month or two later.
Off my uncle?
Yeah, he had one of those blue and black numbers?
Yeah, I think so. It was damaged, I remember, a couple of the buttons had come away and the thing was worn as fuck. It was probably unsellable, but I bought it for next to nothing – mind you it was probably better off in the skip, really.
So, these recordings on the tapes, theyre from that era?
Yeah, well no, the first things I wrote I recorded over the tapes. The stuff youve heard is a couple of years on – maybe 1984/85 by that point, up until 1987. Id got myself a Roland Juno by then, that with the Oberheim, a drumulator drum machine and a reel to reel by then, a couple of fx pedals – it was rudimentary stuff, but I thought I was Quincy fucking Jones at the time, you know! Big flash studio! In the living room of my one bed council flat in Neasden! The Quincy Jones of NW10!
Its amazing stuff, really good!
Ah, thank you. (laughs) Its pretty basic, just muddling through.
And did you do anything with it, try and get it signed or anything?
Yeah, I gave it to a couple of labels – I think London Records might have got their hands on it at one point, but nobody was interested, really. Nothing.
And why did you stop recording?
I had some personal problems, they really got on top of me towards the end of the decade, by the end of the 80s I was homeless – a drug addict. I had nothing.
Sorry to hear that.
Shit happens, you know? I spent the whole of the 90s in a fucked up state, just really fucked up,
Yeah, it was! (laughs). Its alright now, Im back on my feet, been clean for nearly 12 years now, got a flat, in a relationship, just happy to be alive.
Absolutely. And the music, a little bird tells me something might be happening with it quite soon?!
(Laughs) Well, so I hear – you tell me! I mean, Id just given up on anything ever happening a long, loooong time ago so, yeah, it would be an amazing thing if people get to hear it, itd be great – a bit weird as its 30 years old, older than you isnt it?
No, Im 33!
Well, whatever – nearly as old as you, then.
But its great, Im just really happy you managed to hold onto it amid what sounds like a really chaotic time.
Yeah, its a miracle really – thanks to your uncle again, hes a good man! He held onto the two cassette tapes that all of this stuffs off, otherwise theyd have been lost. And you, too – I thought you were taking the piss when you got in touch about it maybe getting released, but you meant it, respect for that.
So, yeah, we cant say too much at the moment but suffice to say the public will be hearing some of your archive material soon…
Fingers crossed. Everythings going alright with it at the moment, I think its going to be released at the end of this year, apparently – were waiting to get it mastered, and then they think a four or five track vinyl release.
Great stuff. Under the name Verlaine, right?
yeah, it was my grandmothers maiden name on my mums side – all that stuff I recorded in the 80s, in my head it was under the name Verlaine.
Any plans to start recording again?
No, no. I dont think so. I sold all the gear I had in the 90s to finance my habits, Ive got a computer now but I havent got a clue how to make music on it – I had to get my girlfriend to help me to reply to your email, I’m not very modern when it comes to technology and that.
And the track youve given me, for the Ran$om Note. Tell us about that – whens that from?
Thats a demo on one of the tapes you found that isnt going to end up on the record, its from 1986, that one. Its called Mercury, its a rough draft really – just a little track I’d bounced to tape. It’s me trying to make electrofunk.
Verlaine – Mercury (Original 1986 demo):
Its great, its definitely raw but it gives a good intro to your sound, I think. It’s sort of slow proto house music…
Is it? I don’t know. I was trying to make electrofunk. I was born in Chicago though so, yeah -maybe it’s in the blood!
Well, there you go then! So, anything else to discuss?
No, I think thats it.
Shall we catch up again when the records coming out?
Yes, Id love that. Thanks again, Joe.
Thank you Michael, its been a pleasure.