I first discovered his music on a Jive Wire NME cassette (you had to save vouchers and send away for it). In fact, I discovered a lot of incredible artists on those first few NME tapes: Robert Wyatt, James Blood Ulmer, David Gamson, Ornette Coleman, King Sunny Ade, Liaisons Dangereuses... The list goes on. I bet you don't get music like that covered in the NME now. In fact, I know you don't get music like that covered in the NME now. I weep for you teenagers, with your bereft lives of instant access to all the music in the world at your fingertips in a second.
Anyhow, I digress. Gil Scott Heron. Blew me away when I heard B-Movie. I was just discovering serious black music and also training to be a Trotskyist revolutionary and Gil's music hit me right between the lugholes fair and square. He was funny, satirical, biting and - ye Gods - funky. (The Redskins did their best, God bless, but in comparison they sounded like the Black Dyke Mills Band trying to make James Brown records.)
So I went out and bought the album that contained B-Movie, Reflections, and then worked my way back through the catalogue. Amazingly, a lot of his records were available as cutouts, which presumably meant they did not sell terribly well. He was probably bigger in the UK than his home country. Bought half his catalogue at knockdown prices from Selectadisc's cutout shop.
I also went to see him play three times, the first time in Nottingham in about 1982 (promoting Moving Target). I think it was at the Marcus Garvey Centre, but it could equally have been in Rock City. Anyone remember? Anyhow. Brilliant. Just brilliant. Like a funky Michael Moore (it takes a lot of squinting to imagine that). Great band, amazing songs, switching from the ballads to the funk and never forgetting the talking in between the songs, which was almost as entertaining as the music itself. I saw him twice more subsequently, the last time at the Jazz Cafe in about 1994 and the gigs got progressively worse. The last one was a bit of shocker, although mildly amusing for the presence of Jay Kay from Jamiroquai prancing up and down like a pixie with a pencil stuck up its arse. Gil was terrible. He hadn't made a good record - or ANY record - for a long time and he was a bit of a state.
I was made up when he made his comeback last year. Personally, I thought the album was a bit overhyped and overrated, but I was so pleased he was at least making music and being creative again. So it's such a damn shame that he's gone, thought that's what happens when you get involved in all that shit, innit, Gil?
You were great and we loved you. And your demons showed you were human. And your dad played for Kidderminster Harriers. How fucking cool is that?
GIL SCOTT-HERON – B Movie
GIL SCOTT-HERON – Fast Lane
GIL SCOTT-HERON – Home Is Where The Hatred Is
GIL SCOTT-HERON – Lady Day & John Coltrane
GIL SCOTT-HERON – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
GIL SCOTT-HERON – 1980
GIL SCOTT-HERON – Your Daddy Loves You
GIL SCOTT-HERON – Johannesburg