The idea was well enough received and I’m at a wee bit of a loss for inspiration just now, so here’s another of the bits of vinyl in the cupboard on 10″ vinyl.
Gil Scott-Heron (1 April 1949 – 27 May 2011) started out as a novelist but from 1970 onwards became better known as a poet and musician thanks to a body of work which addressed much of what was wrong in modern society, particularly in his home country of America. His long time collaborator was Brian Jackson, a multi-talented musician and arranger. Scott-Heron and Jackson were unflinching in their approach, caring little for any criticism thrown at them that they were artists and musicians who had no concept of the ‘ghetto’ life they often wrote and sang about. They didn’t care much for mainstream success and acceptance, happy enough to write music and lyrics that would attack the most conservative values of America knowing that the vast majority of radio stations and TV producers would shy away from giving them an airing.
The protest singing and poetry was well received in many parts of Europe. His songs and poems highlighted the dangers being posed by politicians who were moving ever further to the right, seeking out all sorts of enemies to fight with and all for the purpose of currying favour with an electorate stoked up by a frenzied media. It was a message that struck a chord with many.
He achieved most fame in the 80s as a vocal opponent of Ronald Reagan and the apartheid system, and the 10″ EP I have is a 1985 release to promote a Best Of compilation. Three of its songs are from the mid 70s, while the other – a superb attack on Reaganomics – was recorded in 1981.
mp3 : Gil Scott-Heron – Winter In America
mp3 : Gil Scott-Heron – Johannesburg
mp3 : Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
mp3 : Gil Scott-Heron – “B” Movie
The 90s and first decade of the 21st Century were far from kind to Gil Scott Heron. There has been thirteen studio albums released between 1970 and 1984, but only more would appear before 2010 albeit some compilations and live recordings kept his name known, aided too by just about ever rapper who burst onto the scene mentioning Gil Scott-Heron as being a huge influence. He developed serious issues with drug addiction that led to him spending time in jail. Having been released in 2007, he dedicated himself to performing, writing and recording again, culminating in the release in 2010 of I’m New Here, an extraordinary but very short album (28 minutes spread over 15 tracks) full of intensely personal and reflective lyrics that one UK critic described as ‘Massive Attack jamming with Robert Johnson and Allen Ginsberg.’
A remix version of the album, We’re New Here was released in February 2011, featuring production by English musician Jamie xx, who reworked material from the original album to great effect. But just as many were again paying attention to Gil Scott-Heron, he died just a few months later at the age of 62. The cause of death has never been revealed, but the man himself in interviews on his release from prison had confirmed he was HIV-positive and that his health hadn’t been great.
A further album of stripped down music from the I’m New Here session was made available in limited release for Record Store Day in 2014, and the given a full release on 1 April 2015 on what would have been his 66th birthday. His life has been remembered too with the making and release of ‘Who Is Gil Scott Heron?‘, from the UK film makers Iain Forsyth and Jayne Pollard, whose previous work included the Nick Cave drama/documentary 20,000 Days on Earth.
Many of the tributes and obituaries at the time of his death used the words tortured genius. For once, they were being applied properly.