Bubblebrain featuring DJ Spim and Lee Jackson performed a live mashup of two songs: Alone Again (Naturally) by Gilbert O’Sullivan and the notoriously suppressed version of the same song by Biz Markie. This was to an audience of O’Sullivan fans at Jersey Opera House for the screening of a documentary about the litigious legend. The film is Out On His Own directed by Adrian McCarthy.
Do Ray Me
The show was part of Branchage Festival 2010. Gilbert and the film’s director appeared after the film and there was a lengthy interview and audience questions moderated by Rod Bryans. Gilbert told the audience that he had timed his arrival to avoid seeing any of the film they had just watched. He said he’d feel too uncomfortable watching himself on the big screen.
Bubblebrain’s rework imagines what if in 1991 Gilbert had accepted that which Biz with a few scraps of chords from the original had made as a classic of nascent commercial hip hop giddily testing and transgressing the rights of the ‘owner’. The tale that the rapper affably unwinds is as light and comic as the original song is heavy with woe. The loop may well have been chosen simply because Gilbert’s disc was at the top of a pile of vinyl rather than out of any respect for, or even knowledge of, Gilbert the artist. There appears to be nothing disrespectful about Biz Markie’s treatment on record, and the rap version’s mood is good-natured. Biz is working hard, getting gigs and staying cheerful despite often ending up … “alone again.”
Now I’m a’ight, nothin’ to worry
Wherever I wanna go, I get there in a hurry
That’s right I’m big time, very well known
Now I’m sayin’ rhymes instead of beats on the microphone
In 1991, Grand Upright Music Ltd sued and was granted an injunction against Warner Bros for Biz Markie’s use of a short looped sample in the song from his album I Need A Haircut.
Gilbert, in the film describes Biz as “a comic” and says “The song is too important to be used for anything humorous. So we protect that. The great thing about ownership is that we can protect that. We said no. But being who they were, they just went ahead and released it.”
The case affected the evolution of hip hop. In an attempt to make artists abandon the project of plundering the archives of the music industry, samples had to be cleared and paid for if they were to be used at all.
Bubblebrain, on stage introducing their work, said “We like Gilbert’s song. It is an oddity, quite sad and still, very beautiful. Biz Markie’s version is also great, it sounds kind of throwaway, and it might be a freestyle improvised in the studio in one take. We decided to bring them together, to reconcile them as parts of the whole they are to us and the history of hip hop.”
European song-writing, and in particular the show tune style on which Gilbert made his success, is built upon traditions of Romantic narrative and a hierarchical social order with the composer at the top.
Afrological music maintains its community through recycling of material (motifs and other patterns) while individual artists signify imaginatively on those familiar materials. Use of sampling technology seems natural from that perspective.
Gilbert Markie In Virtual Reality Together Again with Biz O’Sullivan!
In the mix is cover version spliced with cover version get me.
Bing – Gilbert Markie
Lee Jackson – Biz O’Sullivan
Gary Law – bass guitar, co-arranger
Chris Almond – instruments, co-arranger, producer
Spim – scratching
Lee’s vocals recorded at La Motte Street Studio, Jersey. Bing’s vocals recorded at Live Lounge, Rue de Funchal, Jersey.
Deconstruction of original hit, bieber algorithm, time spaced out …
A cloud of jelly Gilberts floats by
I have a piece of metal in my eye
I phone around my children
and check for creases again
“I was a pop star in the 70s. I remember beaches and endless hot nights. Bars right on the beach and dancing and when the tide came in we grabbed what we could carry and ran further up the sand. Hit me in the fucking balls damn it.
“Now I can sing like Bieber. I didn’t see the premise of your man’s film. I must insist that my reflected image, indeed my own shadow, is forbidden.
“That is why I arrived late to the show ladies and gentlemen. It has nothing to do with Biz Markie. I heard months ago that he would be here tonight and I am perfectly relaxed about it. I know he might try to turn the event into some kind of a circus. That will not be allowed to happen. I am pacing around backstage even as I sit here talking to you now.”
Rod Bryans says “What they were explaining is you were quite fundamental in changing the whole notion of sampling in hip hop … and they were doing a version …”
Special thanks to Branchage Film Festival and especially to Nina Hervé, Philip Ilson, Xanthe Hamilton, Sara Felton, and Chris Bell.
Bubblebrain photo by bbcjersey
Further reading: jamoeblog