Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Exotic connections

I'm listening to the first two volumes of Martin Denny's Exotica series this morning, courtesy of Scamp's excellent 1996 twofer CD - required listening for any Throbbing Gristle devotee, though I tend to prefer Les Baxter's exotic excursions. This latest round of headphone tourism was inspired by TG's Greatest Hits album which I was poring over at the weekend in search of some elusive information. Greatest Hits was dedicated to Martin Denny (long before the lounge revival of the 90's rekindled interest in the composer) but it was the album's art direction which put Denny in mind, or rather, Liberty Records who issued Denny's early albums in some very attractive sleeves, starring Exotica Girl Sandy Warner. I can't help but think the alluring photograph of Cosey Fanni Tutti on the Greatest Hits album would have made a more effective cover for the 20 Jazz Funk Greats album (such was the propensity of record labels to use glamour girls to sell cut-price compilations) but either way it's an effective way of confounding expectations. TG also borrowed the typeface from the title of the second Exotica album for their own logo, and donned Hawaiian shirts (or in Gen's case, a Yellow Magic Orchestra shirt) for the group photo on the rear sleeve, complete with some amusing props - a mooring rope, a stray crab and Cosey's cornet.

Alternative shot of the Greatest Hits group portrait, courtesy of the 2011 re-issue

The connections between Throbbing Gristle and Martin Denny run deeper than packaging homages. The influence of Denny on TG's music is felt on some of the group's most beautiful songs - 20 Jazz Funk Greats introduced vibes to the TG sound, on tracks like Tanith, Exotica, Hot on the Heels of Love, later reappearing on the final single Distant Dreams (Part 2). The group paid its most explicit tribute to Martin Denny with the Journey Through A Body track Exotic Functions, with its strange animal noises and polyrhythmic percussion. I mentioned the renewed interest in the 90's of vintage exotica, and interestingly there's an overlap here between TG and the belated lounge scene. When Tim Gane of Stereolab was tested for The Wire's Invisible Jukebox feature in issue 164 (October 1997), he recalled first hearing Martin Denny's music on a TG tape: "The first time I heard Martin Denny was on a Throbbing Gristle cassette back in 1979, and I always loved the track. I didn't even know what it was. It was in the middle of a load of stuff - it was a live gig they were playing".

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