Melody Maker | Feature | 13 July 1991 | Photo: Neil Setchfield
BOMB THE BASS
Tim Simenon shuts his eyes, shakes his head and through gritted teeth describes the last Bomb The Bass single, "Love So True", as "a total fucking nightmare".
A sassy hip hop track featuring Loretta Heywood on vocals, it was released at the end of January and was immediately banned by Radio One, Capital and most of the other legal radio stations. The name Bomb The Bass was considered to be insensitive in the light of the Gulf War.
After countless telephone calls pointing out how ridiculous this was cut no ice with Auntie Beeb et al, Tim's record company, Rhythm King, hit upon a simple solution. They covered up the Bomb The Bass logo on the sleeve with stickers saying "Tim Simenon" and announced that "Love So True" was his debut solo single. A week later, with a land war looming, the radio bans on the record remained in place and it was withdrawn from the shops.
The problems surrounding "Love So True" wouldn’t have been so frustrating for Tim if the track hadn't been his first release since "Say A Little Prayer" in late 1988. Not that he's been idle during the last two or three years. As well as producing and remixing Neneh Cherry, Adamski and Seal, he's written a 20-minute long soundtrack for a skateboarding video and built a recording studio close to his west London home. In recent weeks, he's also remixed Tears For Fears' "Change", megamixed five tracks by Sandii & The Sunsetz, and co-produced Tackhead's next single, "Video Head".
But although Tim has continued to be heavily involved in dance music, he is well aware that many clubbers associate Bomb The Bass with a completely different scene to that which prevails today. Indeed, the changes in the dance world since 1988's Summer Of Love have been so great that the release of a new Bomb The Bass single, "Winter In July", must make him feel as though he's starting all over again.
"That is definitely true. But it's actually a good feeling and I'm glad of the chance to put some of the stuff I've learnt by working with artists like Neneh and Tackhead into practice. I've basically had the time and space to think about what I wanted Bomb The Bass to be and I must admit that I'm confident the new songs will keep the people who followed me at the start happy and also win over new friends. Exciting times are ahead."
"Winter In July" is perhaps Tim's finest work to date. Three mixes of the track are available and each is so radically different from the others that it's practically a brand new cut. Streets Ahead have performed the honours for the funky "Ubiquity" and poppy "Brighton Daze" versions, while Tim's "I Dream In Tibet Mix" features all manner of weird sounds – tinkling bells, sci-fi film effects, classical strings and even a snippet of Pink Floyd guitar. The slow, shuffling hip hop beats sometimes makes the tune sound like an Andy Weatherall special.
"It's certainly a different sound to before and much of it is to do with playing the new material live over the last year or so," says Tim. "I don't mean PAs, I'm talking about fully live sets with musicians like Tackhead's Keith LeBlanc and Doug Wimbish up there with me, musicians I've checked from day one. We've basically taken those live ideas into the studio, hooked ourselves into the desk and jammed with the technology. The end result is best described as a sophisticated noise.
"When it came to 'Winter In July', I wanted a different kind of beat to what people have been hearing in the clubs, something that had an ethnic feel and would pump the rest of the track along. Once that was sorted, it was just a question of layering some keyboards and Loretta scat singing over the top. We didn't think about the basic song too much, we just did it. Mind you, we then spent days and days on the mixes. At one point there were so many versions going round that I started to lose track of what the fuck was happening."
The main link between the different mixes of "Winter In July" is Loretta Heywood's silky voice. As well as smoothing the rugged beats, she seems to have come up with lyrics and a title that reflect the mood of the times perfectly. There have been few signs of any sort of a summer so far this year, let alone another Summer Of Love.
"But the lyrics of the song are actually very positive," says Loretta. "They’re saying that whatever happens, you shouldn't let life pass you by. I originally wrote them to help pull myself out of a depression one weekend last winter. Hopefully the song will give comfort and support to anybody who listens to it when they're feeling down. And what with this shitty weather and nobody having any money because of the recession, we might be talking about quite a lot of people there."
After first hearing her sing on a Major Force record in the late 1980s, Tim began working with Loretta at the end of last year. In addition to "Winter In July" and the ill-fated "Love So True", they have collaborated on a couple of other cuts for the second Bomb The Bass album, "Unknown Territory". The LP is scheduled for release next month and, if all goes to plan, one of these Simenon-Heywood tracks, "The Air That You Breathe", will be the follow-up single to "Winter In July".
"Having recorded each of the early singles with a different guest vocalist, it's nice to now have people like Loretta and Al A Mode, who's on three tracks on the LP, giving Bomb The Bass more stability," says Tim. "Not that that was the intention when I first invited them to work with me. It was more just the way the situation developed. Loretta had lived in Japan for seven years before she started working with me and I think that helped. When we first met, she had no preconceptions about the music and no idea what I was all about."
"I had no idea what you even looked like!" laughs Loretta. "I was asked to come to the studio and when I arrived I basically just chatted to the half a dozen people who were hanging out there. Tim sat quietly in the corner most of the time and I thought, 'Oh, he's far too small to be Mr Bomb The Bass, he's probably the teaboy'."
"But that's fine, that's cool," shrugs Tim. "I mean, whatever I say about stability, Bomb The Bass is still not a group in the conventional sense. Keith LeBlanc, Doug Wimbish and all the other people involved do their own thing as well, and everybody's source of income comes from outside. If you think about all the production and remix work I've done, that's even true of me to some extent."
The first Bomb The Bass single, "Beat Dis", has been described as both one of the first DJ cut-up records and an early example of the rock riffs 'n' dance beats melt. It's also been suggested that "Say A Little Prayer" pre-empted the avalanche of covers by dance acts and the mellowing out of hip hip with which Soul II Soul and Massive Attack are most commonly associated.
But perhaps more importantly, Tim Simenon pioneered the best way for dance acts to reap the rewards of a good tune. The story of how "Beat Dis" started out as a white label and – with no poster campaign, no magazine adverts, no radio play by the legal stations – ended up on "Top Of The Pops" has been repeated time and time again over the last three years. Driza Bone's "Real Love" and Cola Boy's "Seven Ways To Love" are the most recent examples.
"It's good to see certain tracks doing well by following that course, but there's a lot of shit out there too," says Tim. "There are very few originators and the way that everybody sounded like Snap last year and all those C&C Music Factory carbon copies we're hearing now gets me really annoyed. A lot of the problems are down to the way major record companies approach dance music. It's like fast food, it's like McDonald's on vinyl.
"That's why I'm glad I took some time out rather than rushing into another album. It would probably have sounded confused, a bit of this and a bit of that, whereas the LP we've got coming out next month is several steps removed from everybody else's sound. It's totally our own thing. The hip hop foundations are still there but it has nothing to do with current trends, it's not part of a scene or a clique. Some may say it's not even club music and even though I'm not too sure on that one myself, I know it's gonna cause a dent. A big, big dent."