Artists On Albums: AOA#41 (Mark Fry on Electric Ladyland)

Mark Fry on…

The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland (Track Record/Reprise, 1968)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland

“I tried to use the board, the console, and what I had at my disposal, as a palette. Much as an artist would pick the colours, I would pick the colours of sound,” said producer Eddie Kramer about his longstanding collaboration with Jimi Hendrix.

Listening to Electric Ladyland over forty years after it was recorded, I can hear that painterly approach to the music taken by both Hendrix and Kramer. Hendrix would often describe the sounds he had in his head in colours, and Kramer would interpret them. When I first heard the album I didn’t know they had been discussing this intertwining of the senses, the perception of sound as colour, but it’s something that has always seemed completely natural to me.

Apparently the newly opened Record Plant in New York, where Electric Ladyland was recorded in 1968, was one of the first studios to create a relaxed, laid-back recording environment rather than the science-lab atmosphere which was then the norm (and which I remember was still very much the case in RCA’s studios in Rome when I started recording Dreaming With Alice there in 1971). You can hear lots of people in the control room on Electric Ladyland, which gives the whole album a special feel. I would have given my eye-teeth to have been at some of those sessions – but I was still a schoolboy, aged just sixteen, living with my musical heroes in their music alone.
Dropping the needle down on “Voodoo Chile” now gives me more than a ‘slight return’ to the day I was given a copy of the album by my uncle for Christmas at the end of the year in which it was recorded. My uncle was a Catholic priest at the time, and I remember he and my mother talking about whether I was old enough to set eyes on all those naked girls. But it wasn’t really the cover that grabbed my attention; it was the music within that really turned me on. Sometimes Hendrix could make his guitar sound like the dying throes of a mortally wounded dinosaur, almost operatic in its grandeur, and combined with his rather shy vocals I felt there was a vulnerability that spoke to me as a young teenager. As far as I was concerned Hendrix had ‘hero’ written all over him.

There was a crackling of electricity at that moment in musical history. So many walls were being knocked down, new horizons being created, and the speed at which technical evolution and the possibilities of sound recording were travelling seems amazing, even today. Hendrix was booked into the studio for Electric Ladyland from April to July (those were indeed the days) but in the space of just those three months the recording went from eight, to sixteen, and then to twenty-four tracks. When I listen to Electric Ladyland I feel Hendrix catches the thrill of being on the crest of that wave – but there’s also a great sense of yearning in the music, he reaches out for the abstract, towards that mysterious void that lies beyond.

Notes On The Artist:

Mark Fry

Mark Fry

Much like almost-peer Vashti Bunyan, Mark Fry’s story has been punctuated by a lengthy gap between an overlooked musical birth and a latter-day renaissance.  Having debuted with the acid-flecked pastoralism of Dreaming With Alice – an album which provided the misty yet balmy missing link between the early works of The Incredible String Band and Tyrannosaurus Rex – for RCA Italy in 1972, the British-born Fry soon disappeared from the music world to concentrate on life as a respected painter.  With Dreaming With Alice having become a collector’s touchstone during the passage of over three decades, Fry belatedly and tentatively returned to the recording fray with 2008’s matured and reflective Shooting The Moon.

Since joining the close-nit Second Language family in more recent years, Fry has delved deeper into bucolic exploration.  Hence with 2011’s I Lived In Trees long-player, recorded with Anglo-folk experimentalists The A. Lords, came a bewitching and delicate mélange of esoteric instrumental tapestries and calming rural stillness.  Fry has also contributed to Second Language compilations like the ornithologically-themed Music & Migration III and appeared as a guest vocalist on the still-fresh eponymous first album from Second Language ‘super group’ Silver Servants.

Mark Fry - South Wind, Clear Sky

Mark Fry – South Wind, Clear Sky

After moonlighting on Captain Trip Records for a live LP – recorded in 2013 and released in Japan earlier this year – Fry’s latest full-length release for Second Language now appears in the shape of South Wind, Clear Sky. Cut with help from the likes of multi-instrumentalist producer and arranger Guy Fixsen and Piano Magic’s Angèle David-Guillou, in both London and Normandy, the album is perhaps his most intimate and naturalistic statement to date.  Elegiacally shifting between hushed electro-acoustic sparseness and wider string-framed vistas, with subtle nods to the most rustic wares of Robert Wyatt and post-Syd/pre-Darkside Of The Moon Pink Floyd, the long-player could be the most heartwarming set in Fry’s short yet far from slight catalogue.

Mark Fry will be making select live appearances to support the release of South Wind, Clear Sky.